Funding has been granted for a project to track Covid-19 clusters based on geo-referenced data to more accurately predict future outbreaks and influence future interventions.

The funding was awarded as part of a rapid research response funding call published jointly by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Enterprise Ireland and the IDA (SFI-EI-IDA).

Prof Brian O’Neill, Director of Research, Enterprise & Innovation Services at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), said researchers across the higher education sector are eager to contribute solutions during this exceptional crisis.

“Covid-19 represents the greatest threat the world has faced in living memory, affecting how we live, work and come together to celebrate and even how we mourn lost loved ones” – Prof Brian O’Neill, TU Dublin’s Director, Research, Enterprise & Innovation Services.

He said that TU Dublin’s research is underpinned by an applied focus. “The announcement will see our researchers collaborate with colleagues in other Irish universities and research institutions to develop rapid, innovative solutions to address this global crisis.”

Led by Dr Paul Hynds, Senior Research Fellow in the Environmental Sustainability and Health Institute (ESHI) at TU Dublin and UCC’s Dr Jean O’Dwyer, the project will investigate retrospective COVID-19 infection data to model potential future outbreaks in the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Paul Hynds said, “We don’t yet understand how exactly Covid-19 infection is transmitted throughout the Irish population. We cannot track the development of clusters over time, or the effects of multiple, concurrent drivers on its transmission such as age, sex and family structures or residential proximity to road networks or recreational facilities. We’re also unsure of the efficacy of interventions such as the closure of schools or how a large gathering, such as a concert could contribute to clusters forming.”

Describing the CO/SMID methodology (COVID-19: Scanning, Mobility and Intervention Diagnosis) Dr Hynds said: “The CO/SMID project represents an entirely new approach to this ongoing crisis, employing a highly validated, geo-referenced case dataset to track Covid-19 clusters. This will allow us to monitor the effects of significant events and interventions among specific subpopulations, such as in care-homes or smaller regions. By tracking this clustering data retrospectively, we can improve the forecasting of future clusters while making recommendations for future interventions.”

CO/SMID is a multi-agency project led by TU Dublin with expertise from UCC, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the Health Informatics Unit, the Health Service Executive, the National Virus Reference Laboratory and the University of Southampton.