MIT’s AI WARNS AGAINST RELAXING SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES TOO SOON

 

A NOVEL COROVAVIRUS

Since this novel coronavirus referred to as Covid-19 has been spreading across the world, most governments have implemented lockdowns to varying degrees and social distancing rules designed to reduce the spread. The whole idea behind “flattening the curve” is to lower the rate by which new cases emerge preventing healthcare facilities from having to turn patients away due to limited capacity. The literal curve on the graph represents the rise and fall of new Covid-19 cases across time.

The World Health Organization and governments everywhere have been using this data to determine how we move forward. There is a debate regarding many aspects of this including when to end social distancing measures, whether or not to mandate the use of masks or face coverings in public, which businesses to open and when, and much more.

During these unprecedented and unpredictable times artificial intelligence has the potential to analyze the data and provide guidance and the best way forward. Here we take a look at an AI system built by MIT designed to track and predict the spread of Covid-19 taking into account current social distancing rules.

 

Covid-19

The spread of the novel coronavirus has yet to slow down.

THE DEBATE ON HOW TO EASE RESTRICTIONS

According to the data, social distancing rules in many countries appear to be having the desired effect. No healthcare system in the world is prepared to handle too many virus patients at once. If hospitals are overrun with Covid-19 patients even trivial ailments can become deadly since people would no longer have access to healthcare. It is clear that until a vaccine or a good treatment is found some degree of social distancing measures will have to remain in place. MIT’s AI model supports this line of reasoning.

In light of the progress we have made the conversation is now moving towards how to lift stay at home orders safely. Wearing masks in public and utilizing contact tracing apps have been proposed as ways to keep people safe after restrictions are lifted. However, these solutions have serious limitations. There are not enough n95 masks for essential workers let alone everyone else and regular masks only help so much. Contact tracing apps require people to opt in and agree to share their personal data. In today’s world it is not surprising that most people may not be too thrilled about that.

One thing is clear though, based off this AI model out of MIT if social distancing measures are relaxed too soon there will be a surge of new cooronavirus cases which could be disastrous since at this time we do not have a vaccine or a treatment.

The researchers wrote “Our results unequivocally indicate that the countries in which rapid government interventions and strict public health measures for quarantine and isolation were implemented were successful in halting the spread of infection and prevent it from exploding exponentially”. They also made it clear that easing restrictions too soon is a bad idea writing “Relaxing or reversing quarantine measures right now will lead to an exponential explosion in the infected case count, thus nullifying the role played by all measures implemented in the US since mid-March 2020.”

Covid-19

It is clear the economy cannot stay shutdown forever.

MIT’s AI MODELS

The team from MIT trained their AI using public data on the spread of Covid-19 taking into account lockdowns and other government implemented measures to deal with the surge in cases. It was trained on known data going back as far as January of this year and has accurately predicted the spread through April. Using their neural network augmented model the researchers focused their analysis on four areas of the world. These areas are Wuhan, Italy, South Korea, and the US. They compared the role played by isolation measures in these countries in controlling the reproduction rate of the virus.

The results demonstrate that we must take great care not to end lockdowns and social distancing measures too early or we risk cancelling out some if not all of the progress made so far. It is important to remember we do not have to choose between total lockdown and a total reopening of the economy with no social distancing rules in place. We will have to find a middle ground

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