Policymakers continue to have uncertainties on how to answer important questions about the novel coronavirus — such as when and how to reopen businesses and schools, and how to distribute a vaccine once one becomes available.


Now a University of Washington team has received a $33,000 grant to develop a model that uses local data to generate policy recommendations that could help lower COVID-19 infections in King County.

“We will be simulating the impact of various interventions — including social distancing measures, school closure policies, testing capacity, contact-tracing strategies and mask wearing — on population health outcomes,” said lead researcher Shan Liu, a UW associate professor of industrial and systems engineering. “Once a vaccine becomes available, we plan to expand the model to simulate vaccination rollout and coverage, and optimize for the best delivery configuration, such as vaccination priority if supply is limited.”

The UW team is one of nine groups from around the world that received a grant from the Society for Medical Decision Making’s COVID-19 Decision Modeling Initiative. These projects will last four to six months and focus on developing models to help inform policymakers.

Although the UW’s model will be specific to King County, which includes Seattle, the team’s methods and policy insights should be generalizable to other urban areas, Liu said. The researchers plan to make their final model accessible to other researchers online.

“There are quite a few good COVID-19 forecasting models that provide useful predictions on future trends, but our model adds the decision-making capability from an operations research perspective,” Liu said. “Our approach optimizes public health policies using a large-scale simulation model and provides actionable insights on the best interventions to save lives and minimize social disruptions in King County and beyond.”