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Modeling COVID-19 in Idaho

Experts across the nation are using modeling to help make decisions regarding how to respond to COVID-19. But knowing the infection rate in New York or an estimated death toll in Washington state doesn’t really help our great state of Idaho.

To address Idaho’s specific rural population, age distribution and travel, modeling researchers at Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and Washington State University have joined forces to model intervention strategies specific to Idaho’s unique circumstances. These models are designed to help the Idaho Governor’s Coronavirus Working Group and local leaders throughout the state make data-driven policy decisions.

IMCI participant, mathematician and U of I biomedical researcher Dr. Benjamin Ridenhour is one of many scientists working long hours on this project. He was recently interviewed by KTVB7. The following news piece was written by Brian Holmes.

Idaho leaders looking at state-specific COVID-19 model to guide decisions

The model developed by researchers at the University of Idaho and four other colleges differs dramatically from other models people are talking about.

Author: Brian Holmes
Published: 6:12 PM MDT April 15, 2020
Updated: 7:00 PM MDT April 15, 2020

BOISE, Idaho — A model developed for the Idaho Governor’s Coronavirus Working Group shows the effects of mitigation efforts, such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders, in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare, the University of Idaho, and four other colleges and universities developed the model.

It’s designed to help the governor’s working group and local leaders around Idaho make data-driven policy decisions and identify which strategies are effective in reducing the impact of COVID-19.

Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in a news release Wednesday that based on the model’s multiple assumptions and scenarios, “we can conclude that continued mitigation efforts are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, reducing contact rates, delaying the peak of the outbreak, and flattening the curve.”

According to Health and Welfare, when mitigation measures are stopped, the model shows a second wave of infections unless testing and contact-tracing capacity increases so infections can be identified, and contacts isolated.

Jeppesen added that the model was not necessarily developed to estimate the number of hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19.

Many government leaders in the region have been looking at another model, from the University of Washington, which uses data based on what happened earlier this year in Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus was discovered.

Dr. Benjamin Ridenhour, a biomedical researcher with the math department at the University of Idaho in Moscow, said that model is too simplistic.

The Idaho-specific model that Ridenhour has been working on since January takes into account such things as Idaho’s rural population, age distribution, and travel between cities.

It’s a better fit than the UW model for Idaho’s decision-makers.

However, Ridenhour said, it’s not perfect, as the data Idaho researchers need to build an even better model hasn’t always been available, at least not consistently, anyway. For example, hospital capacity, length of hospital stays, and how much testing is being done.

“Those are important when it comes to lifting interventions or putting more interventions in place,” Ridenhour said.

Another piece of information that’s been hard to nail down, but something many people are asking about: How many people who’ve been infected with COVID-19 have recovered?

“Unfortunately we are not able to get recovery numbers,” Ridenhour said. “We’re left using data about new infections … and trying to infer how long it takes people to recover.”

Ridenhour said another challenge is obtaining data about the large numbers of people carrying COVID-19 who never show symptoms and never go to the doctor.

He also said a lack of testing, or a backlog, hinders the model.

“We don’t know exactly how many positives there actually are out there, so that slows things down a bit. That’s the backlog bit,” Ridenhour said.

Researchers at Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and Washington State University partnered with University of Idaho faculty to model intervention strategies.

The Idaho State Board of Education on March 18 sent out a request to institutions of higher learning for a state-specific model.

Holly Wichman, director of UI’s Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation, organized and coordinated the modeling effort.

A team of researchers presented the model to the Board of Education and Health and Welfare on March 20. 

More detailed information about the model is available below, or through this link (pdf file).

Skilled Scientists Hard at Work

Skilled Scientists Hard at Work

As much as possible, even amid state shut-downs and online classes, IMCI scientists and researchers continue to work, strategize, collaborate and share their expertise.

Director Holly Wichman is coordinating a team of modelers from across Idaho to help the state predict the spread of the virus so resources can be deployed proactively and strategically.

And Assistant Director Tanya Miura warns the community that COVID-19 is much more contagious and deadly than the flu. Click on the image below to view the article published in today’s newspaper.

Dr. Miura will also be featured in an upcoming Vandal Theory podcast.

A Model for Success

A Model for Success

Thanks to Phil Bogdan, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Office of Research and Economic Development, for helping us tell our story. This article was published in the December 2019 / January 2020 Scholars and Researchers newsletter. Michele is just ONE of the amazing people we have involved with our organization. Browse the website to learn more about IMCI services and then join us!

Michele Mattoon is no stranger to change. Since she began her University of Idaho career 18 years ago, she advanced through roles in accounts payable, finance, human resources, grant management and grant compliance.

Now Mattoon is a key figure in an exciting new organizational change at the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions (CMCI), which is now part of a larger, multidisciplinary level III institute under the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED).

The name of this new entity: the Institute for Modeling, Collaboration and Innovation (IMCI).

“I was hired as CMCI’s program manager in 2015, when it was funded through a five-year Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant from the National Institutes of Health,” Mattoon said.

Mattoon says CMCI will continue to advance U of I’s biomedical research and infrastructure under the new IMCI institute, which will now support the university on a much broader scale.

“Think of it this way. CMCI primarily serves our COBRE grant, and IMCI is COBRE plus, allowing us to expand our modeling efforts beyond the biomedical mission of COBRE,” Mattoon explained.

Mattoon says IMCI’s post-doctoral staff has expertise in mathematical modeling, molecular modeling, bioinformatics, population genetics, machine learning, geospatial modeling, and soon statistical modeling.

Mattoon also points out that IMCI’s support services go beyond modeling research.

“IMCI offers support for grant writing, research strategy, and outreach,” Mattoon said. “Anybody putting together a grant proposal that includes a modeling component, we can help them with it.”

Mattoon helps researchers develop their grant proposal budgets, enter information into VERAS, create proposal-specific checklists, communicate with sub-award contacts, and organize and collect various documents for proposal submission. Her colleague, IMCI Director Holly Wichman helps early stage investigators write successful grant proposals through her Grant Writing Working Group.
Whenever proposals are funded, Mattoon helps researchers manage grant finances, compliance with federal regulations, sub-awards, agency reporting, and personnel management, while Communications and Events Coordinator Lydia Stucki, assists IMCI funded projects with financial processing, event and meeting coordination, and communications.

Mattoon says that that IMCI leadership and staff use the same collaborative, service-based model that made CMCI a vital support center for U of I, the state’s leading research entity for addressing large, complex problems. She credits IMCI’s growth and success to IMCI Director Holly Wichman, Associate Director Marty Ytreberg, Assistant Director Tanya Miura, Modeling Core Director Craig Miller, and the many other service-focused leaders and staff that make IMCI successful.

“IMCI serves as a resource for researchers, faculty, students and staff alike,” Mattoon said. We have the people and programs in place to guide and support interdisciplinary research for U of I researchers from all colleges.”

Mattoon says she is confident that IMCI will grow even further as a level III institute.

“When we started, 25 researchers were involved,” Mattoon said. “Now there are over 70 participating researchers from nine different colleges. Our expansion in scope will create all kinds of new and exciting challenges.”

Mattoon says she is looking forward to the years ahead as a new research institute and encourages researchers to contact IMCI staff at

Research Equipment Available for Use

One of the main objectives of IMCI is to support faculty in their interdisciplinary research. And one of the ways we do that is by helping the U of I acquire large pieces of equipment that would otherwise be unattainable. That means from time to time we:

  • Purchase equipment outright in support of the CMCI COBRE grant, usually as part of a specific pilot or research project.
  • Contribute funds towards the purchase of equipment that will build and improve upon the U of I’s research infrastructure.
  • Spearhead a collaborative purchasing initiative, negotiating and coordinating between researchers and departments to collect sufficient funding for a particular piece of equipment.

VIEW THE LIST of major equipment we’ve purchased (in whole or in part) to date, that is available to the U of I research community to use as needed.

U of I’s newest institute is IMCI: Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation

U of I’s newest institute is IMCI: Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation

The Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation (IMCI) is the university’s newest Level III Institute. Housed within the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED), IMCI plays a pivotal role in advancing U of I’s strategic plan to be a leader in addressing large, complex problems.

Modeling improves research at every stage: making predictions, generating hypotheses, exploring scenarios, and guiding empirical work. It is a highly interactive process and often used when it is impossible or impractical to create experimental conditions in which scientists can directly measure outcomes.

A specific focus on modeling started on the U of I campus in 2015 with the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions (CMCI) – a five-year, $10.6M Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant from the National Institutes of Health. Housed in the College of Science and supported by the COBRE grant, the center flourished.

The institute grew out of the center’s success. Now the organization is able to offer modeling support beyond the biomedical sciences. CMCI remains intact. It is the cornerstone grant and will continue advancing biomedical research and infrastructure under the institute’s supervision.

IMCI is the new face of the organization but most aspects of the unit remain the same.

Most importantly, IMCI continues to be a highly collaborative, service-based organization led by accomplished researchers: Holly Wichman, Director; Marty Ytreberg, Associate Director; Tanya Miura, Assistant Director; and Craig Miller, Modeling Core Director. It serves as a resource for any U of I researcher in need of modeling support, no matter which U of I college they are affiliated with. IMCI has systems and programs in place to guide and support interdisciplinary research at all levels.

For example, IMCI’s Modeling Core is a “brain core” populated by talented and collaborative postdoctoral fellows who provide modeling services to the community. Current modeling expertise spans molecular modeling, genomics, mathematical modeling, population genetics, machine learning, and geospatial modeling; and will soon include proficiency in statistical modeling.

Located on the third floor of the IRIC building, the institute’s staff also provides exceptional service to the IMCI community. This includes proposal submission, grant management, reporting, event management, communications support and financial processing.

Level III entities like IMCI are focal points for cross-disciplinary research at U of I and can draw on resources from multiple U of I units, external agencies and institutions. Sister U of I institutes under ORED’s supervision include the Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI), the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST), and the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute (IWRRI). Learn more about IMCI at or email to get involved.