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Modeling Infection Spread

Caudill headshotLester Caudill, professor of mathematics, is an expert in biomedical applications of mathematics, specifically models of infection spread. 

Caudill teaches a course called “Mathematical Models in Biology and Medicine,” and this semester the class has been focusing on the spread of COVID-19.

"The beginning of our course in January coincided with the outbreak in China, and we are now continuing our research, via remote learning, to discuss the COVID pandemic across the world, including in the U.S.," said Caudill. "Math can be particularly helpful to scientific research in the sense that mathematical models can simulate experiments you can’t do in real life."

Related to COVID, Caudill says math can be particularly helpful for the "what if" scenarios, especially when trying to predict the impacts of different intervention strategies.

“What if the virus can survive on surfaces longer than we think it can? What if there were a major flu outbreak now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Once we can simulate how the infection spreads and how severe it is, we can start to explore different ways of intervening, to get a sense of how much of an impact possible interventions may offer. This can provide insight into, for example, whether the health benefits of shifting from a “recommended social distancing” policy to a mandatory quarantining policy are worth it."

Caudill can also speak to the historical perspective.

"The idea of mathematically modeling the spread of an infection is not a new idea. People have done this type of research for decades with measles, flu, malaria, and, more recently, with Zika and Ebola. Math modeling helps us to understand and capture the dynamics of infection spread."

Contact director of media and public relations Sunni Brown at sbrown5@richmond.edu to connect with Caudill today.