James Moody, Lisa Keister and Dana Pasquale awarded NIDHD grant to model disease spread and socioeconomic outcomes, “Economic security and health disparity in COVID-19: A computational modeling approach”

Duke University’s James Moody, Professor in the Department of Sociology, and collaborators Lisa Keister, Professor in the Department of Sociology, and Dana Pasquale, Instructor in the Department of Population and Health Sciences, intend to build  and test a fully integrated Agent Based Model (ABM) of disease spread and socio-economic outcomes, under their recently funded NICHD R21 award, “Economic security and health disparity in COVID-19: A computational modeling approach.”

Typical models for epidemic spread ignore social differentiation by race/ethnicity, working status, and social context despite the importance of these factors in fundamentally shaping epidemic exposure risk, burden of disease, and the resulting economic hardships associated with disease and disease mitigation efforts. Alternatively, Agent- based models (ABM) provide an approach that can more easily account for differential exposure, care heterogeneity, and sociologically relevant behavioral feedback processes that internally shape disease transmission, job insecurity, savings, and activity.

For instance, African Americans and Latinos are considerably more likely than whites to work in hourly-wage, precarious jobs, and as a result, these populations are particularly vulnerable to job loss, reductions in income and benefits, and other job-related cutbacks during economic retrenchments. Similarly, there are marked gradients along the wealth distribution in economic vulnerability resulting from deficits in savings needed to cover basic living expenses during periods of income reduction or loss. Importantly, the very same populations who are economically vulnerable are also at higher risk of contracting diseases like COVID-19. African Americans, Latinos, and other low-SES populations are at particularly high risk of becoming ill, being hospitalized, and dying of complications resulting from COVID-19. Importantly, behaviors resulting from job insecurity are likely to exacerbate disease risk; and disease is likely to exacerbate job insecurity. Most attempts to model these processes do not take this essential interdependence into account. The modeling approach that Moody’s team is utilizing considers these elements.

The proposed ABM will respect social strata to model interdependent disease spread and socio-economic outcomes to understand how disease risk or job insecurity exacerbates the other, increasing disparity among the most vulnerable populations.  Once adjusted, the ABM will shed light on the natural policy trade-offs inherent in how public health interventions are implemented, potentially allowing for much more fine- tuned, careful, and less-costly, while none-the-less healthy policy programs.