When it comes to assessing the risk of transmission of an infectious disease like COVID-19 and evaluating the effectiveness of measures like physical distancing, mathematics and mathematical modelling are crucial.
“How does the virus spread? How quickly does it multiply? What’s the impact of interventions like social distancing? Mathematical modelling looks at these kinds of questions,” says Vijaya Kumar Murty, a professor in the department of mathematics in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science.
To address such questions, mathematicians like Murty take into account numerous variables involved in the spread of a disease, including the age, occupation or pre-existing health conditions of an individual.
“So what you do is try to build a mathematical quantitative model – taking these factors into account – of what’s going to happen in terms of the propagation dynamics,” says Murty, who is also the director of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences at U of T.
Murty is the recipient of a $666,667 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) that will go towards setting up the COVID-19 Mathematical Modelling Rapid Response Task Force, a network of experts who will work to predict outbreak trajectories for the disease, measure public health interventions and provide real-time advice to policy-makers.
It’s one of nine COVID-19 research projects at U of T to receive support from a recent $25.8-million funding package announced by the Government of Canada, building on an earlier investment of $27 million on March 6 – nearly $6 million of which went to researchers who are based at U of T or one of its affiliated hospitals.