Carlton C

Who Will Win the Big Game? Applying quant facts and sports analytics.
Who Will Win the Big Game? Applying quant facts and sports analytics.
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A University Class's Look at Pandemics & the Coronavirus

The cumulative distribution of the standard bell curve can be used to model many things.
The cumulative distribution of the standard bell curve can be used to model many things.
Image: MatematicasVisuales/Chin (MatematicasVisuales)

Addendum 

(Addendum / Link added April 24, 2020) Unfortunately, the world is overwhelmed with the spread of COVID-19 cases, so that testing is spotty — and the number of cases data is mostly a function of testing availability and who is being tested. As a result, we are tracking the number of deaths related to the virus. With the Spring Semester winding down, this link below is tracking deaths:

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(Addendum / Links added February 25, 2020) There are questions about the COVID-19 data released by China (number of cases, etc.), and we may never know what actually happened in China — but with flare-ups in several other locations (South Korea, Japan, and Italy), our class is regularly (every day or so) updating these LINKS: 

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Additional links that may be useful (updated 3/17/2020):

Main Article

Math, science, data, and functions can be used to study everything from computer chips and health care to the financial markets and business. We often teach our students in a “vacuum” — where the students see no real applications to the real world. As the unfortunate events of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) unfolded during the Spring semester of 2020, our class used data, math, and functions to study the events. Please note that this article is for educational purposes only; the information was used to show students how math and data can be applied to study events — and to extract meaningful information.  

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We first looked at other pandemics such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, AIDS, the Black Death, and the Swine Flu. We learned that the devastation of various pandemics is a function of mortality rate, and virality rate (how easy the disease can be spread).

At February 20, 2020:

Selected pandemics and diseases
Selected pandemics and diseases
Image: C. Chin (C. Chin)
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Scientists are studying how the Coronavirus spreads, but there are still many unknowns. For instance, how long do microbes survive on various surfaces? As a result, China has recently been destroying material amounts of its currency!

Interestingly, Ebola has some of the highest and worst mortality rates, but sometimes, the disease acts so fast, that victims die so quickly, that the pandemic does not have time to spread. In essence, Ebola sometimes can “burn itself out.”

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Estimated Mortality Rate

Thus, one key factor of interest is the mortality rate of the Coronavirus. Because the Coronavirus has been relatively contained to the Hubei Province in China, we have been able to study mortality rates outside of that overwhelmed province.

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Additional, and more sophisticated, data and analyses will be developed. In the meantime, our class was able to hone in on an expected mortality rate fairly early. Note that this data may not include certain data such as those infected who recovered (missing cases), and other similar cases (missing data) that can skew results. Thus, we leave our estimate in a rough 1%-3% range. Note that we are also unsure of certain data — and results always depends on the cleanliness of data (“GIGO” means “garbage in, garbage out”).

Simple estimate of COVID-19 mortality rate by class.
Simple estimate of COVID-19 mortality rate by class.
Image: C. Chin / Rowan Class (C. Chin/ Johns Hopkins CSSE)
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How bad can things get?

Before we dig in the trees, good scientists and engineers often want to put things in perspective. Thus, we took a “big picture” look at the forest and researched and charted the documented number of SARS cases over time, back in 2003. We noticed that the chart looks very similar to the cumulative distribution chart of a bell curve.

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Cumulative SARS cases vs. Cumulative Bell Curve Distribution
Cumulative SARS cases vs. Cumulative Bell Curve Distribution
Image: MatematicasVisuales/Chin (MatematicasVisuales)

Now, the parameters of the cumulative distribution can vary — but it is interesting that this type of function is so similar to the SARS curve. It is interesting how math can be used to model the real world!

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What does this mean?

The data that the Johns Hopkins CSSE has been collecting and sharing is beneficial for the entire world. If the data coming out of China is correct (there has already been one reconfiguration), we may soon see an inflection point like we see on the previous cumulative distribution curves. This may then help us estimate the total number of cases.

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On the other hand, the recent scare on a cruise ship serves as a good reminder that any spark could ignite scarier events. Note the accelerating number of cases outside of China, albeit at a much lower number. Note that about half of the cases outside of China originated from the cruise ship (at the date of this writing).

Number of COVID-19 cases in China and Outside of China at 2/19/2020.
Number of COVID-19 cases in China and Outside of China at 2/19/2020.
Image: C. Chin, Rowan Class (C. Chin, Johns Hopkins CCSE)
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Modeling a fire and ignition (“flashover”)

While the Coronavirus is currently fairly well-contained, prudent experts are giving strong caution signals. They note that any spark could ignite a much larger pandemic than what has been relatively contained in China (and on the cruise ship). This can then cause an explosion in the Coronavirus pandemic much like how fires explode through a building at a certain point (called “flashover”). Note the very steep climb in energy and temperature during this flashover stage.

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Pandemics and Fires can explode if not contained; note the steep climb in energy during “flashover”
Pandemics and Fires can explode if not contained; note the steep climb in energy during “flashover”
Image: Canadian Consulting Engineer / Chin (Canadian Consulting Engineer)

Indeed, the steepness of the climb up the y-axis during the short-time period of the flashover is what we are trying to prevent.

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If we get an inflection point soon, various models may call for total cases in the 150,000 to 300,000 range. However, if we get the feared “ignition,” “all bets are off” because the flashover could cause the number of cases to spike into unknown territory.

Summary

This article is for educational purposes only. As an exercise, our class applied math and scientific techniques, but only on a basic level. Scientists and experts are performing much more detailed analyses — and we will all be watching how the Coronavirus develops. Other notes we learned from our research:

  • Vaccine - we hope that a vaccine will be developed, but this will take at least 12-24 months.
  • What can we do? To help avoid the spreading of germs — for the Coronavirus and flu, we should all regularly wash our hands for at least 20 seconds.
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Let’s hope that the world’s efforts to contain the Coronavirus succeed in containing this pandemic.

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The article represents the work of the author with his class and does not represent the views of Rowan University or any other organization. It should be used for educational purposes only.  

Carlton Chin holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from MIT; he is a fund manager and quant researcher focused on portfolio strategy, business intelligence, and sports analytics. A professor at Rowan University and proponent of education, Carlton serves as Regional Chair of MIT’s Educational Council, serves on several non-profit educational boards, and was elected to his town’s Board of Education. Carlton’s university class contributed reporting.  

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