For a few months last year, Nigel Goldenfeld and Sergei Maslov, a pair of physicists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, were unlikely celebrities in their state’s COVID-19 pandemic response — that is, until everything went wrong.
Following the model’s guidance, the University of Illinois formulated a plan. It would test all its students for the coronavirus twice a week, require the use of masks, and implement other logistical considerations and controls, including an effective contact-tracing system and an exposure-notification phone app. The math suggested that this combination of policies would be sufficient to allow in-person instruction to resume without touching off exponential spread of the virus.
But on September 3, just one week into its fall semester, the university faced a bleak reality. Nearly 800 of its students had tested positive for the coronavirus — more than the model had projected by Thanksgiving. Administrators had to issue an immediate campus-wide suspension of nonessential activities.
Author: Jordana Cepelewicz
Publication Date: 28 January 2021
Publication Site: Quanta Magazine