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BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) --- Epidemiologists use a computerized mathematical process called modeling to give health experts information they need to understand and combat COVID-19. The good news, the number of people with confirmed cases is currently lower than scientific models first predicted, but that leaves families with questions about the data and what’s coming next.

When will it be safe to get a haircut, go out to eat, or work without fear of catching the virus? Epidemiologists use modeling to predict when and where COVID-19 might hit hardest and how many new infections and fatalities are likely. Said Stephen Kissler, Ph.D., from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, “It allows us to take what we know on a small scale about how infection spreads and scale it up to ask questions that have cultural, political and personal relevance.”

But search the internet and you’ll find confusion and conflicting public opinion, with some people questioning whether the original numbers were overestimated or inflated for political reasons and whether social distancing is an overreaction. Kissler says not so fast, because models are meant to change. Every place that closed, every donned mask and person who self-isolated played a part in predicting outcomes.

“People have really changed their behavior and that can change the way the disease spreads. That can completely change the model, because again, those underlying assumptions that we put in from the beginning have changed,” stated Kissler.

Scientists studying the virus in 194 places worldwide found social distancing played a critical role in keeping the virus from overwhelming health systems. Kissler says it will take additional surveillance to help control the U.S. spread. “We’re still learning a lot about this infection. There’s still a lot of data coming in. Our predictions can change over time. Ideally, they are getting better and better as we are learning more and more,” explained Kissler.

As states continue reopening, health experts encourage parents to consult their pediatricians if they have doubts about when it is safe to stop sheltering, wearing masks or other practices to keep their families healthy. Parents can also go to the FiveThirtyEight website and find the latest evidence on the pandemic.