Assistant Professor Samitha Samaranayake from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University recently won a NSF grant for his project titled, “Managing Epidemics by Managing Mobility.” Other collaborators on this project are Daniel B. Work – Vanderbilt University and Benedetto Piccoli – Rutgers University.
Epidemiological models, such as the susceptible-exposed-infectious-recovered (SEIR) model and its extensions, are essential to understand how infectious diseases spread throughout a population. While impacts of travel are indirectly accounted for within the parameters that describe the overall disease transmission rate, standard models do not explicitly represent mobility. As a consequence, mobility-restricting policies can only be coarsely understood. Recent experiences with COVID-19 highlight the significant coupling between personal mobility and the dynamics of disease contagion. This has sparked renewed interest in directly modeling transportation flows through the use of spatial meta-population models. However, these efforts still typically model mobility at a very coarse level and ignore many of the complex, local-scale travel patterns and their network effects. This work aims to bridge that gap and help address questions of the following nature: i) Which communities are most likely to accelerate disease propagation throughout the network? ii) Which recurrent travel patterns are most likely to become disease vectors? iii) What combination of social-distancing and travel restriction measures are needed to safely reactivate a region? iv) Where should preventive screening be administered (when resources are limited) to minimize contagion throughout the network?