KU’s new 14-day COVID-19 projection model says daily case count will fall; university reports 41 new cases

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

The University of Kansas on Friday unveiled a new COVID-19 forecasting tool and confirmed 41 new cases of the virus since it last released data on Tuesday, bringing the total case count at the university to 882.

Chancellor Douglas Girod said the new two-week forecasting model projects what the case count will look like two weeks from now if current trends continue.

“The goal of this 14-day rolling forecast is to give decision makers a sense for where the growth of COVID-19 cases is likely headed based on the most current information available,” he said in a campus message. “The forecast is less a tool for exact prediction on any given day and is instead a tool that helps us think about how case growth might unfold if we push trends out 14 days. Keep in mind that cumulative cases and forecasts are not a reflection of active infections.”

The forecasting tool, Girod said, was designed using a process called ensemble modeling, which uses multiple models to predict an outcome. KU’s Pandemic Medical Advisory Team built four separate models, made projections from each model and averaged each model’s predictions in order to gather a minimum, median and maximum prediction.

For Friday’s forecast, the model predicted that in 14 days, on Oct. 2, KU’s daily case count will have fallen to around six cases per day, with the cumulative total around 905 cases.

Girod acknowledged that with predictive modeling, estimates can fluctuate, and he said there’s no perfect system for predicting COVID-19’s impact.

“It’s important to recognize the limitations of any forecast of COVID-19 on a university campus. The reality is, there is no precedent for our current situation, meaning there is no pre-existing model or set of assumptions that neatly fit our circumstances,” he said. “Like universities across the country, we are learning every day about transmission patterns and mitigation strategies, and we will continue to respond to new information accordingly.”

Going forward, Girod said the two-week forecast and the university’s COVID-19 dashboard would aid the Pandemic Medical Advisory Team — a group of nine area doctors and health care experts, including Girod — as it determines campus needs in areas such as testing capacity and clinic capacity.

“Beyond that, these tools will also help our partners project community needs for things like hospital space, ICU beds, and ventilators across the region,” he said.

From Sept. 10 to Sept. 16, the most recent seven-day period for which data is available, the KU community tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate of 4.32%, down significantly from Tuesday’s seven-day report, in which the community tested positive at a rate of 10.9%.

Out of 1,110 total tests from Sept. 10 to Sept. 16, 48 returned with positive results, and nearly all of them appear to be students. KU’s dashboard no longer gives exact numbers of positive cases among the university community’s subgroups — students, staff and faculty. Instead, the dashboard now provides a series of bar graphs that show how the test results are divided up between employees and students but that don’t provide any numerical labels. Only a handful of staff and faculty members appear to have tested positive in the last seven-day period via the testing sources detailed in KU’s dashboard.

Friday’s data update indicated that the percentage of symptomatic patients testing positive for COVID-19 through nasal swab tests at Watkins Health Center inched higher over the last week to nearly 30%, up from 26.7% in Tuesday’s update. KU on Friday also acknowledged that there may be a small number of test orders included in the calculation of the symptomatic percent positive rate which don’t yet have results, which it attributed to its various testing partners each reporting data to the university differently.

KU’s dashboard, the university said, includes data from Clinical Reference Laboratory in Lenexa, a commercial lab conducting saliva-based testing; Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health; LMH Health; Watkins Health Services; and the KU Health System.

KU will next release COVID-19 data on Tuesday, and short-term forecasts will be delivered each Friday for the rest of the semester.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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