Following Governor Herbert’s release yesterday of the Utah Economic Response Task Force Plan, “Utah Leads Together,” the Task Force announced the formation of a cross-disciplinary team of data analytics and subject-matter experts to advise decision-makers in achieving the Plan’s goals. 

“Utah Leads Together” detailed a three phase response to COVID-19, reflecting the Governor’s objective of dealing with the pandemic as a threat to both the physical health of Utahns and their economic welfare. To address both, it is critical that a smart and systematic approach be adopted to trace the infected population so that mitigation efforts are not spoiled by more community spread. 

“This team is using the best data, science and advice from public health professionals to navigate the phase one urgent stage,” the Governor said in releasing the report. “Health is paramount, and we are equally concerned about the economic welfare of our individuals and families, and this team of cross-disciplinary experts will allow us to focus effectively on both objectives.”  

The assembled team is broad-based with expertise drawn from statistical modeling, epidemiology, healthcare, and the public and private sector. Their main goal is to contain the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the R0 (pronounced R naught) to less than 1 in 8 weeks. This R naught value represents the rate of spread and determines the increase in cases and therefore healthcare breaking point. If R naught stays above one our health care facilities will experience strain.

According to Derek Miller, chairman of the Utah Economic Response Task Force, “The data analytics team will provide decision support for the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget under the direction of the Governor to implement the Utah Leads Together plan including decisions on possible methods for using data to focus the state’s testing, tracing, and isolation/quarantine efforts.”

Sources of data to be incorporated include: testing; hospital capacity and patient outcomes; and citizen symptoms from self-reporting, ports of entry, etc. The team will advise on:

  • Data collection and gathering strategies;
  • Refining the operational simulation model with data based assumptions;
  • Targeting the testing strategy;
  • Identifying constraints and bottlenecks in the operational response; and,
  • Providing decision support to leadership

The team will meet daily to review an operational dashboard and discuss adjustments to help support decisions—particularly the testing strategy. It will also provide guidance for achieving the following targets as set by the Governor under the plan’s Urgent Phase:

  • Reduce R0 <1 in 8 weeks;
  • Prevent hospitals from running out of ICU or hospital bed capacity;
  • Identify, on average, two infected people through tracing for every positive test;
  • Work to keep the number of people in official quarantine to less than 2% of the population; and,
  • Maintain 8 of 13 counties at < 10 cases (with each case isolated).

Two questions the team intends to answer through data collection and analysis include: 1) Will the plan, under current execution, achieve the Governor’s targets outlined above; and, 2) What other decision calibrations, if any, are needed to achieve those targets.

The team of expert contributors include: Adam Looney, Ph.D., Economics, University of Utah; Steve Alder, Ph.D., Health Ecologist, University of Utah; Nate Talley, Budget and Policy Manager, Governor’s Office of Management and Budget; Jonathan Ball, Director, Legislative Fiscal Analyst; John Angus, Deputy Director, Department of Technology Services; Amber Johnston, Senior Project Manager, Department of Technology Services; Michael Friedrichs, Lead Epidemiologist, Utah Department of Health; Jill Parker, Executive Director, Utah Association of Local Health Departments; Albert Martinez, Chief Analytics Officer, Intermountain Healthcare; LTC Rob Dent, Medical Officer for the 85th Civil Support Team, Utah National Guard; LTC Jared Gailey, Science Officer for the 85th Civil Support Team, Utah National Guard; Nate Murphy, Team Leader, Project Management Expert; Ajai Kapoor, Facilitator, Theory of Constraints Expert; and two representatives from the private sector who wish to contribute anonymously.