Conversations from the COVID-19 Virtual Summit Panel Discussion

On Monday, April 6, 2020, the Health Care Engineering Systems Center held the COVID-19 Virtual Summit featuring medical professionals and data scientists from both within and outside of UIUC to discuss the challenges of COVID-19 on local, regional, statewide, and national levels. The summit was comprised of 12 individual talks and a panel discussion. Together with panel moderator Roy Campbell, Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, we’ve put together a summary of the most important points from our panel discussion.

Panelists included:

  • Tamer Basar, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Carolyn Beck, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Cheng-Kai Kai, M.D., University of Chicago
  • David Liebovitz, M.D., Northwestern University
  • Sergei Maslov, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Richard Novak, M.D., University of Illinois at Chicago

Challenges, Recommendations, and Takeaways:

  1. There are many organizational issues regarding testing facilities. David Liebovitz, M.D., said that drive-through COVID-19 testing facilities have a longer turnaround compared to inpatient testing. Cheng-Kai Kao, M.D., pointed out that while there are ways to scale up testing, test accuracy may be much lower than expected.
  2. Low-income and minority populations are at high risk. There is a higher instance of the spread, morbidity, and mortality due to COVID-19 among low-income and minority populations in the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs. While this is true of many diseases, Richard Novak, M.D., cited additional reasons being limited resources of fast testing practices, and homeless shelters, prisons, and retirement homes being shared facilities with a lack of space to self-isolate and social distance.
  3. Pandemic best practices are generally not applied well in rural areas. Richard Novak, M.D., pointed out that policies such as universal masking are useful when implemented early, but often are not. Sergei Maslov, Ph.D., added that the implementation of social distancing is very different between counties and that many people in rural downstate areas did not start to social distance when more heavily-populated areas began to do so. Carolyn Beck, Ph.D., was concerned about the lack of data to reflect different transmission rates in rural areas. Tamer Basar, Ph.D., noted that enforcing stay-at-home orders will soon become a major challenge as the weather gets warmer and people tire of remaining inside.
  4. Supply chain issues that hospitals and essential workers are experiencing, such as the shortage of PPE and other equipment, will continue. There is not yet enough data to determine whether supply chain issues will affect other industries. Carolyn Beck, Ph.D., mentioned that models exist to assist care providers with mitigating these supply chain issues.
  5. Current prediction models are not sufficient. Sergei Maslov, Ph.D., stressed that decision makers rely on accurate models, but many things are contributing to the current lack of accuracy. One contributing factor is the lack of testing data, and another is too little progress being made in heterogeneous modeling. Tamer Basar, Ph.D., confirmed and encouraged to develop models that allow for any discrepancies between regions. For example, it is unknown how receptive the population will be to new COVID-related policies and how that will influence further spread of the disease.

Our expert panelists touched on several issues related to COVID-19, however the above themes were the most prevalent. Are you interested in hearing the full discussion from our expert panelists? View the panel, which begins at 43:15, here.