MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard and West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics have teamed up to create a data-driven model to forecast the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) in West Virginia during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The collaboration, known as “Task Force Petersen”, was created with the intention of using data analysis to forecast and track the availability, procurement, distribution, and shortfalls of PPE, according to a National Guard press release. Brad Price, an assistant professor at WVU in the Chambers College, runs the civilian team of the task force and said about a year ago they created “Data Driven West Virginia”, which wasn’t designed for pandemics.
Instead, the team was created to help the state and state businesses, so when the National Guard called Price to ask for his assistance, they already had an idea and desire of how to use data models to help West Virginia.
One of the things we have unique challenges with here, in West Virginia, is just being a rural area, in general, so a lot of the models that have been developed are focused more on urban areas and are built for those types of settings. What we had to do was develop a little bit different of an approach that takes into account not only social distancing aspects but the rural nature of the state and how people move to healthcare here.Brad Price
That is not to say that the task force’s model only focuses on rural areas, just that it collects from small rural healthcare facilities and large urban ones alike, Price said.
Creating the model was tough, as they also had to figure out what portion of people who contract COVID-19 would seek treatment because that would directly impact the PPE supply, Price said. This aspect was critical because the task force does not forecast people who have COVID-19, but rather how many will visit hospitals and, in turn, require the use of masks, gloves, and gowns as part of their treatment, according to a WVU press release.
Determining whether the task force has been successful is tough, Price said, because success means something different on any given day. He said because it is a forecasting model that changes based on what they’re seeing from healthcare systems around the state, success can be hard to define.
However, Price said, because the model can be used every day to help assist the National Guard with whatever challenges the day may bring, he considers it to be a success. Especially, he added, because “Data Driven WV” was created to help West Virginians and that is exactly what they’re doing during this crisis.
“To have this kind of be the use case of what it can do and why something like this is necessary in our state is great but also we want to help out West Virginians,” Price said. “We are the land grant university, that’s our job, we’re the flagship university in the state. That’s our job to help how we can and I think that’s what been most fulfilling about this project — is we’re trying to help.”