At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, more than 40,000 students test twice a week for coronavirus. They cannot enter campus buildings until an app voucher is returned. Everyone must wear a mask.
This is one of the most comprehensive plans by a major college to keep the virus under control. University scientists developed a quick, inexpensive saliva test. Other researchers put together a detailed computer model that suggested that these measures would work, and that person-directing could escalate this decline.
But the predictive model included an oversight: it was assumed that all students would do everything they were told.
Even after the positive test, enough students continued to attend parties, showing how best-thinking plans to pursue a college education can fail when humans do not seek common sense or command from public health officials.
Last week, the university reported an unexpected increase of coronovirus cases and imposed a lockdown. Students had to stay in their hostel or off-campus accommodation, except for necessary activities, including going to class.
Randall Munro, creator of the popular Internet comic strip XKCD and a contributor to The Times, joked about the fact that two people who were important players in developing the model.
“Can’t understand why someone with a physics degree wouldn’t mind understanding how often college students are invited to parties,” one of the XKCD characters comments.
Nigel Goldenfeld, one of the physicists who was the butt of the comic strip, answered in good humor. “We enjoyed the fun,” he said. But, he said, it was not entirely accurate what happened.
For one, while he and a fellow physicist, Sergei Maslov, had devoted efforts to an epidemiological model for all of Illinois, modeling more detailed university simulations, the movements of some 46,000 students, professors and others Occurred, such as servers in coffee shops and bars. The interaction with the students was a large group effort and was led by Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Goldenfeld and Ahmed E. Albina did. (It’s hard to make jokes about civil engineers.)
Second, he actually attended the college party and a little of it – more than 7,000 students partyed three times a week in his model.
Scientists had not noticed that some students will continue to party after the positive exam results are received. “It was willful noncompliance by a small group of people,” Drs. Goldenfeld said.
Those were important elements for some people who infected many people. “If you know you’re positive,” Dr. Albanna said, “And you go to a party, it’s not just a bad act. It’s very dangerous.”
Dr. Goldenfeld stated that the main purpose of the model was not to make accurate predictions, but to help administrators make informed choices about due diligence.
For example, the model showed that once-a-week screenings, as university administrators originally planned, were too low, too slow. Students who become infected soon after a test will become infectious for days before the next test. The university extended the mandate to conduct week two tests, although now the program is only for graduate students.
Since the university closed last week, the number of new cases has dropped again, and it is expected that all students will now take the protocol more seriously.
Carl T., a professor of biology at the University of Washington and an infectious disease specialist. Bergstrom said most of the other large state universities “were open and predictable without any kind of serious testing or they have changed.” Massive online education. “
What the University of Illinois has tried to do is “very unusual,” Drs. Bergstrom said. “Being able to semester a person at a school of that size with such a social environment is a really remarkable achievement and I think they have a fair chance to pull it off,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, they gave it a good effort.”
The positivity rate for the tests is currently around 1 percent. “It’s more than we’d like, but it’s coming down,” said Rebecca Lee Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois. “I hope. Everything is going in the right direction.”
Dr. Goldenfeld said that the notoriety of recent times was also reversed: XKCD Xingng gave her a “street cred” with her daughters.