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June 09, 2020

Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Foster Holds Teleconference on COVID-19 Modeling

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a teleconference with Dr. Noelle Samia, Associate Professor of Statistics at Northwestern University; Dr. Lauren Meyers, Executive Director at UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin; and Dr. Tim Persons, Chief Scientist and Managing Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics at the U.S. Government Accountability Office to discuss different approaches to COVID-19 modeling and how those efforts can inform policy decisions moving forward.

“The task of building an accurate COVID-19 model is a difficult one. This is a novel virus, and we are learning vital information about its behavior only while it spreads across the globe,” said Chairman Bill Foster (D-IL) of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. “Meanwhile, human behavior in response to the virus varies from country to country, state to state, and even person to person, greatly altering the transmission rates of the virus. In an environment as complex as this, modelers must make assumptions about the virus and the social response to it in order to create as accurate a forecast as possible. Considering these complications, it is critical to understand that excessive reliance on just one model could send policymakers down a dangerous path.”

The Members and panelists on the call explored the major strengths and weaknesses of COVID-19 models, how model results can be better communicated to the public, and what steps could improve data quality, data sharing, and transparency of these models to inform decisions related to the current pandemic. Also discussed was how policymakers should assess the reliability of these models and ways in which COVID-19 modelers and policymakers can collaborate to identify the most appropriate and reliable models.

“Accurate modeling is essential for ensuring that America’s response to COVID-19 is informed by the best available scientific data,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “Governments at every level need reliable forecasts to guide their policies and shape their short and long-term planning for the duration of the pandemic. Additionally, this crisis illustrates that greater investments in America’s pandemic modeling capabilities will be required. Despite the heroic efforts of the scientific community, which has made incredible strides since the beginning of the year, America’s pandemic modeling infrastructure is playing catch-up. I’m eager to hear how policymakers can best utilize today’s COVID-19 models, and how America can bolster its modeling capabilities for the next pandemic.”