21 Apr 2020   |   Network Updates   |   Update from University of Amsterdam
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University of Amsterdam scientists launch website that seeks ideal COVID-19 exit strategy


The intelligent lockdown is certainly necessary, but is also causing serious damage to society on almost every conceivable level. That’s why it’s essential to resume ‘normal life’ as quickly as possible. So it’s a quest for the ideal exit strategy. The new crowdsourcing website Strategies versus Corona invites network researchers, programmers, data scientists, psychologists and economists to come up with exit strategies and also to directly calculate the consequences.

The new website has been set up by UvA professor of Psychological Methods Denny Borsboom, also one of the initiators of Data versus Corona (see below for more information), together with Tessa Blanken, Charlotte Tanis and Fabian Dablander. According to him the website is way overdue.

How do we as a country extract ourselves from the situation as well and as quickly as possible? At first sight this question would seem to lie in the realm of epidemiology. Why do you believe it’s so important that network researchers, programmers, data scientists, psychologists and economists also get to grips with the issue?

‘Exit strategies always have an epidemiological core – usually in the form of mathematical models that describe the spread of the virus. But they are also based on behavioural interventions such as social distancing – which are typically the domain of behavioural scientists. Moreover, the evaluation of exit strategies requires that attention be given to medical, economic, social and psychological costs. A virologist recently claimed that it would be best to keep the Netherlands in lockdown for a year – if you do that, then of course the country just won’t exist anymore.’

How does this website aim to help us find the ideal exit strategy?

‘The project is coordinating the collaboration between scientists through crowd sourcing of the creation and evaluation of possible exit strategies. This is being done in a large Open Science collaboration. We are working together to generate strategies, we are developing a consensus about the criteria which these strategies need to meet, and we are calculating the consequences.

You can come up with various strategies. Here’s a quick selection: you can allow the country to function normally for ten days, followed by ten days of lockdown. Or alternate every other day. Or you can say: everyone aged over 70 has to stay inside. Or: from Monday to Wednesday only people whose family name begins with A-M goes out. Or: we lift the lockdown per region. You can also combine these strategies, so creating many possible strategies.

Together with researchers from the UvA, the Erasmus MC and TNO we are now getting down to the nuts and bolts of building programs that, on the basis of recognised models (such as the one used by the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment/RIVM), enable users to calculate what effects these strategies will have at the epidemiological level. And then they can use other tools on the website to study the effects of the chosen strategy on all kinds of medical, economic and social indicators – such as ‘required number of ICU beds’, ‘expected economic costs’, ‘social feasibility’. Through the website we have come into contact with researchers at TU Delft who will be subjecting policy variants like these to a large representative population sample; now they have offered to include exit strategies devised by us in their research.’

Will policymakers be immediately able to make use of this?

‘To begin with the website is aimed at scientists, but as the project progresses we will be building a user-friendly interface that will also allow us to communicate results to policymakers and non-specialists. This will show the user not only the medical effects of an intervention (such as the number of deaths) but also the expected economic costs and expected psychological consequences.’

It’s clear that you’re in a hurry with this project. How quickly can we expect the first results?

‘Yes, we’re in a hurry with this. Every day we wait longer brings further damage to the country. Socially, psychologically, economically. This website is already way overdue. That’s why we’re already compiling ideas. Everyone can propose exit strategies on our website right now, and these ideas can then be further developed in the next phase of the project. So scientists who want to participate can also post their name and expertise there, and we’ll get in touch with them later.’

More about Science versus Corona

Strategies versus Corona is part of the broad initiative Science versus Corona by Denny Borsboom, Tessa Blanked, Charlotte Tanis and Fabian Dablander; this initiative also includes the previously created project Data versus Corona. That’s an interdisciplinary group of over 100 data scientists and programmers who are using their skills to help with corona-related research. Researchers who want to make use of this resource can do via the data consultancy desk.

This article was first published on 20 April by University of Amsterdam.

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