Modeling by Epistemix Lays the Foundation for Safe Shows

Frances Ferrante, Senior Editor
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PITTSBURGH — Epidemiological modeling has been used for decades in the fight against diseases ranging from measles to MERS, and now it is playing a pivotal role in decision-making around business events in the COVID era.

Enter Epistemix, a start-up computational software modeling company spun out of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Epistemix models an anonymous digital “twin” of every person in a population based on age, gender, race and other demographic information, along with location and vaccination rate, and uses this to determine the potential risk of becoming infected. Its modeling is being used by a variety of organizations, from Fortune 500 companies trying to decide how to safely reopen their offices to colleges like Drake University, to determine which COVID  protocols to implement.

The Exhibitions and Conference Alliance (ECA) has partnered with Epistemix to share its models with key trade show cities and organizers, and the company has been acting as a consultant to members of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and International Association of Fairs and Expositions, as well as the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), on large-scale events in nearly 20 cities, including Boston and Los Angeles.

“The mathematical and scientific data we’re utilizing to custom-build these models will support leaders in making the best decisions possible as they plan for their conventions,” Don Burke, M.D., President of Epistemix and former Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, said.

Related. Business Travel Leaders Make the Case for Restarting Events

Burke helped create what’s known as FRED (Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics) a decade ago to predict the progression of disease outbreaks. During a recent webinar, “Using Data to Accelerate and Improve Pandemic Response,” he spoke of the many factors that affect modeling, and how some behaviors — especially those regarding vaccination — have been more unpredictable during this pandemic than other outbreaks. “In the FRED framework, every person is represented as a separate computational entity,” Burke said. “But populations are affected by things like socioeconomic status, housing, transportation. Dynamic things happen and the hard part is modeling human behavior. How do people make their decisions?”

Human behavior can’t change the disease, but it can change the course of the pandemic.

Related. Acceptance of Required Proof of Vaccination for Large Events on the Upswing

The news for business events, however, has been positive. A recent survey of 5,165 attendees and 442 exhibitors by Freeman and Epistemix found the risk of COVID infection at a business event can be 8 times less than the risk among the general public in the same metropolitan area where it is being held. Participants at business events have an average vaccination rate above 80%, far higher than that of the general population.

The research also found the majority of attendees and exhibitors are willing to put aside their concerns about the delta variant to return to in-person events, and that more than 90% are not opposed to additional health and safety protocols to be able to meet safely.

Epistemix offers an Event Dashboard and Report; event planners can get 10% off the dashboard by using “IAEE10” at checkout (you do not need to be an IAEE member to get the discount).

Reach Don Burke at (412) 383-3595 or donburke@pitt.edu