FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A team of statisticians from Colorado State University that has spent the pandemic helping the State of Colorado forecast spikes in COVID-19 cases says the recent surge in cases in Colorado is mysterious. While some cases can easily be tracked back, the overall surge that Colorado has seen in recent weeks hasn’t been linked to one underlying factor.
“I don’t know if we will ever know what is causing this spike,” said Dr. Bailey Fosdick, Associate Professor in CSU’s Department of Statistics.
Fosdick once spent most of her time studying analytics when it came to social media platforms. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic started, CSU was contacted and asked to help provide their experts in statistics in order to better track the trajectory of the pandemic in Colorado. The team has worked with the governor’s office to help better understand where the state may be headed when it comes to positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“In the last two weeks, we started to see this big surge,” Fosdick said.
Fosdick said her team has worked to use computer analytics to not only document current cases of COVID-19 but to also attempt to forecast where that trajectory may head in the weeks and months ahead. However, in recent weeks the team has found it more difficult to accurately forecast where positivity rates may be headed.
One underlying factor is that health experts haven’t been able to accurately pinpoint an exact cause of the spike. Some suggested it could be related to the weather in Colorado. Others suggested it could be linked to vaccination rates. However, when comparing those factors to other areas with similar environments, the numbers did not correlate.
“That is the big question right now, and in many cases, it is still a mystery,” Fosdick said.
Fosdick said one factor impacting their ability to track positivity rates is the emergence of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests. While effective in helping diagnose COVID-19, a drastic majority of those using the at-home tests never report the numbers to the state for data purposes.
“The appearance of at-home rapid tests really changed things. People no longer needed to schedule something through UCHealth or a hospital to have a quick test,” Fosdick said. “Which is great, but that may never end up in our state dashboards.”
Fosdick said the team of researchers has recently realized their ability to forecast the pandemic’s strength in Colorado may not reach as far as they once hoped. Instead of attempting to forecast several weeks or months out, those involved are now focusing on the coming week or two ahead.
“We are doing our best just to say, ‘What is needed in the next week?'” Fosdick said. “The takeaway message is that things do not look good. As individuals, we need to make our decisions based off that fact.”