Interdisciplinary Team Tackles COVID-19 Testing Amid New Surge

Interdisciplinary Team Tackles COVID-19 Testing Amid New Surge

Ohio State Battelle Center Research Scientist, Sam Malloy, publishes COVID-19 testing research along with collaborators across Ohio State and at Yale University that can help cities combat the pandemic
Man in PPE, administering testing in a drive-thru

In the face of stagnating COVID-19 vaccination rates, cases continue to spread throughout the country and around the world. Early detection of positive cases, especially asymptomatic ones, is critical to breaking transmission chains in order to prevent hospitalization and death among the most vulnerable, as well as to prevent the continued evolution of the Delta variant.

A team of researchers across Ohio State University and Yale University, including OSU Battelle Center Research Scientist Sam Malloy, are advancing a pilot implementation of an innovative, community-based testing approach to quickly identify high risk areas and intervene before a large-scale outbreak occurs. The pilot is being conducted in Central Ohio in collaboration with Columbus Public Health and the Ohio National Guard. The primary purpose of this work is to find undiagnosed COVID-19 cases to reduce further transmission of the virus, especially in largely unvaccinated communities.

Through the adaptation of bandit algorithms, which have been used for decades in search and rescue settings, the team cycles through dozens of potential sites to determine where the next round of testing sites should be placed next in order to detect the most possible positive cases. The approach allows continuous searching for undetected cases, while also pointing the research team toward any emerging hotspots.

The approach is generalizable to other infectious diseases, creating an opportunity to take effective action in early stages of a future pandemic. Malloy is optimistic about this scalability, noting that “while translating an idea from a concept on paper to a pilot in the field has been incredibly complex, our team has learned a great deal and we’ve built capacity for doing this at scale in the future - in this sense Columbus is a testbed for a new way of thinking about pandemic response.”

The research team spans multiple disciplines and institutions, and also includes several students who are using this work for capstone projects. At Ohio State, the team includes Dr. Mike Rayo of the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering (ISE) and the Translational Data Analytics Institute as well as Daria Faulkner, Dane Morey, and Net Zhang, students in the College of Public Health, College of Engineering (ISE), and College of Arts and Sciences (Data Analytics), respectively. The team also includes Dr. David Kline of the Wake Forest Department of Biostatistics and Data Science, as well as Dr. Gregg Gonsalves of Yale University’s Public Health Modeling Unit.

About the OSU Battelle Center

Ohio State Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy creates actionable intelligence for decision-makers to address ‘wicked’ national challenges by advancing research in policy modeling and simulation; data integration and visualization; human-machine teaming; decision-science; and risk communication. Our research and training programs are united by the shared principles of translating evidence, anticipating change, and innovating in the public interest.