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Advances in Care

Tracking COVID-19’s Path Through Illinois

Virus Data Modeling

Jaline Gerardin, PhD, is an international expert on measuring the impact of infectious disease containment efforts. She says tracking malaria in Burkina Faso and Nigeria is her “day job.”

When COVID-19 hit Illinois, the Illinois Department of Public Health asked Dr. Gerardin, an assistant professor of preventive medicine in the Division of Epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, to work closer to home. She has joined epidemiology colleagues from throughout the state in modeling the path of the pandemic.

“The governor wanted some modeling insight into decision making, so he convened an Illinois COVID Modeling Task Force,” Dr. Gerardin says. “Working with the Illinois Department of Public Health, given that the state is opening up, could we set up surveillance so they could know as much as possible if they should backtrack or, hopefully, progress to the next phase of opening?”

The task force is also working on the most effective ways to set up contact tracing, or tracing and monitoring the contacts of people infected with COVID-19, as well as measures on how the state can provide support to those who need to isolate once they realize they have been in contact with a person with COVID-19.

Dr. Gerardin first started working with Illinois officials early in the pandemic, in March 2020.

“My main work in malaria is a little bit similar in goals to the COVID-19 Task Force,” she says. “We are not focused on the basic science of malaria, but we use models to design policies for malaria control and elimination.”

Many factors make illnesses difficult to track, and COVID-19 is no exception, particularly because you can pass the virus to others without even having symptom or knowing you have the virus.

“A big challenge is when a disease is asymptomatic,” Dr. Gerardin says. “Testing is always an issue. It helps when the disease has been around for a longer time, but we are always learning more about it. With COVID-19, we are learning more about both epidemiology and the clinical presentation daily.”