Science and Technology

SMOCK: a precious help to keep mapping COVID-19 risk

The project led by Professor Maria João Pereira was one of the 55 project funded by “RESEARCH 4 COVID-19” (2nd edition).

The SMOCK project – Spatial Modelling for mapping COVID-19 risk – developed by CERENA researchers was one of the projects funded by FCT – “RESEARCH 4 COVID-19” (2nd Edition). The project aims to continue evolving so that it is possible to reduce the uncertainty of the risk model, also including mobility information and other covariates.

The success of the initial project was reflected in a partnership with Público newspaper, which resulted in an interactive tool that allowed to share risk maps on a daily basis, which gave a greater visibility to CERENA’s risk map. “It allowed us to further increase the visibility of our work and we received a lot of positive feedback, both from society in general and the scientific community”, highlights professor Maria João Pereira, the project leader and Técnico professor. “It is always very gratifying to see our work recognised and to contribute to the fight against this pandemic”, stresses the professor.

According to the CERENA researcher “the discussion with colleagues from various fields of knowledge has raised new questions and possible research paths that need greater synergies”. “FCT funding is very important because it allows us to expand the research team and to concentrate a greater effort in this line of research. It wouldn’t be possible otherwise”, says professor Maria João Pereira.

The project was presented in April and, since then, the CERENA team has been analyzing the evolution of the spatio-temporal patterns of risk throughout the various phases of the pandemic, based on the history of the maps.

“We started by analyzing additional information regarding the inter-municipality mobility of the populations. “At the methodological level, we are incorporating covariates through geostatistical methods and Spatial Data Sciences”, says the Técnico professor. “We are analyzing the problem by age group and testing the models for smaller geographical units in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto”, she adds. The team also began to model other variables in space, such as incidence and prevalence. “Our model was also applied in Belgium and Brazil with the collaboration of colleagues from universities in those countries”, says the project leader.

Scientists from the National Health Institute Doutor Ricardo Jorge (INSA), the Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI / LARSys) and the Centre for Management Studies of Instituto Superior Técnico (CEG-IST), joined the CERENA team in order “to respond to SMOCK’s goals”, as highlighted by the Técnico professor.

In the next months, scientists will work aiming “to reduce the uncertainty of our risk model” and “also make the models available to decision makers”, says professor Maria João Pereira. “We hope to better understand the effects of the application of COVID-19 disease prevention and mitigation measures through the analysis of spatio-temporal patterns”. The Técnico professor highlights “this knowledge is fundamental for a more insightful real-time management on the ground, i.e., applying measures only in the areas that are crucial and for the shortest possible time, thus minimizing the large-scale social and economic impacts that these measures usually entail”.

Deeply committed to this mission, the team members feel that they “can help to launch hypotheses about the evolution of the disease and causes / effects based on spatio-temporal patterns ”. “But above all, we are creating a set of tools that, together with others that already exist, can reduce uncertainty and manage risk more quickly and effectively in epidemic situations”, adds the Técnico professor.