Aiming to predict COVID, future pandemics better, CDC opens infectious diseases forecasting center

Leaders of the new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics say predicting the course of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has been hampered by data collection problems.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a new center to develop improved forecasting methods to predict the course of COVID-19 and future infectious disease pandemics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a new center to develop improved forecasting methods to predict the course of COVID-19 and future infectious disease pandemics.

Ron Harris / AP

A new U.S. government center aims to become the National Weather Service for infectious diseases — an early warning system to help guide the response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Leaders of the new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics say predicting the course of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has been hampered by problems with data collection.

In contrast, the United Kingdom uses regular population sampling with swab tests and blood draws to get a clearer picture of who’s been infected, said Marc Lipsitch, the new center’s science director. He said similar sampling should be considered in the United States.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to have better access to data from state governments and hospitals, said Caitlin Rivers, the center’s associate director.

The CDC has been granted temporary authority for COVID data collection, but the agency relies on voluntary reporting and complex data agreements with states, Rivers said.

The new center, part of the CDC, is initially being funded with $200 million from the 2021 coronavirus relief package. It has awarded $21 million to academic institutions to develop modeling and forecasting methods.

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