social distancing ontario

New model shows prolonged social distancing in Ontario and Quebec could save 100,000 lives

A new mathematical model developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo suggests that keeping up strong social distancing measures in Ontario and Quebec until mid-September could save almost 100,000 lives. 

The new machine learning-enabled model, called Distancing-SEIRD, was recently the subject of a study that is pending peer review.

"I think we need to wait to ease the social distancing restrictions," said Mohammad Kohandel, a professor in Waterloo's department of applied mathematics, in a news release

"People are tired of the social distancing restrictions, but they need to be patient as we need to continue this a little bit longer and then start to remove things gradually as that seems to be the best approach. To keep the number of patients who need the treatments below the number of resources available, we need to go four to six months with social distancing from the time it started."

In order to conduct the study, researchers modified a standard model commonly used in epidemiology to simulate the spread of infections, called a SEIRD model

Next, they used model data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering from 184 countries between January 22 and April 13, which includes daily counts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths and daily counts of people who have recovered from the disease.

They also used North American cellphone tracking data collected by Google and explored the results in Canada to determine the ranges of people who were adhering to social distancing.

The data showed that approximately 60 per cent of people are practicing social distancing in Ontario, while 70 per cent of people are doing it in Quebec.

From that information, the model predicted that, with no social distancing, Ontario would see more than 100,000 deaths in a six-month period. But with strict social distancing and 60 per cent adherence, fatalities could be reduced by more than 50 per cent over the first six months.

Meanwhile, with Quebec's larger number of COVID-19 cases, the model indicates that strict social distancing measures could save tens of thousands of lives over six months, compared to no social distancing.

"Our model parameters are all fixed assuming that everything remains the same," said Michelle Przedborski, a research assistant professor in Waterloo's faculty of mathematics, in a statement. 

"The model shows that if we have a strict social distancing policy and then we stop social distancing all at once the tendency is that we don't actually flatten the curve, we just shift the infection peak. And effectively, we risk having the same peak numbers of infections as we would if we hadn't social distanced."

The news comes as Quebec has announced plans to begin reopening schools and businesses within the next few weeks, though Ontario has yet to release a date for when restrictions will be lifted. 

Quebec currently has the most cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 26,594 cases reported as of April 30. Ontario has the second-highest number, with 16,187 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning.

Lead photo by

Ryan Bolton

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