One of the newest members to join the Emergent Alliance, The Covid-19 Localisation Modelling Group (TLMG), is focused on providing easy to use, transparent models of Covid 19. Their main target is to stimulate young people to give it a try and help them become confident advocates for policies that can improve the path of Covid 19 in their local area.
The story for why TLMG is aiming their work at young people is at one level simple. In March 2020 nobody else seemed to be offering this, so there was clearly a gap. However, there is a little more to it.
Maurice Glucksman who is Co-Lead Architect of TLMG with Dr. Kim Warren explained: “Quite literally at that early stage it was a hunch. Kim and I thought if this virus is not really affecting young people but many of them are worried and want to know more, that’s a good enough reason to offer them analytic tools they can use to understand it better, see the reasons for going along with restrictions, then maybe they will also influence their friends and family.”
That later proved prescient.
At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic almost everyone, except leading scientists, were mostly out of the loop as policymakers struggled to understand what was actually happening.
Over time that improved but TLMG feared young people would gradually become much more likely to test positive. This was eventually backed up by SAGE in their 6th November 2020 report delivering recommendations to reverse declining adherence by young people. Young people suffered less but they caught Covid 19 more.
Why was that happening?
Young people on average won the genetic lottery and understandably they reacted by behaving differently. But that was a problem because with all those infected young people circulating, the risk for everyone else was higher. And as we have recently seen the risk of mutations is higher.
In March 2020, and for months afterwards, most of the communications about Covid 19 were directed at influential adults by influential adults. That’s perhaps understandable as young people were in relatively less danger. But it was not working.
The November SAGE report recommended to communicate more to young people and try to reference peer behaviour as good examples of what to do. But there is nothing in the report recommending education using sophisticated modelling of the pandemic as a way to motivate some young people to set a good example.
Maurice commented: “One of key the reasons the pandemic has been so difficult to manage is because it is mostly invisible. Asymptomatic cases are difficult to detect and without a test you cannot be sure who is infected, recovered or remains susceptible. It is difficult to feel motivated to act on what you can’t see or measure, and moreover believe and adhere to guidance in the absence of tangible and relatable evidence.”
TMLG felt it was short-sighted to overlook educating young people. They reasoned that if young people could be convinced through education to be just as careful about spreading Covid 19 as older folks, everyone would be much better off. The idea was by offering young people a way to understand how the key ‘invisibles’ in the pandemic are working in their local area it might be possible to change their mindset.
TLMG set out to create tools for young people who were curious enough to do their own analysis to discover for themselves what public health policies had a chance of improving the situation with Covid 19. They also decided as extra motivation to aim at helping young people analyse their own local neighbourhood.
The volunteers from The Covid-19 Localisation Modelling Group have created courses and webinars to teach how data models can be used by anyone to understand better what is happening in their local area and discover those actions that could lead to a better outcome. The course promotes and supports accessible and highly localised modelling, allowing greater engagement among the general public – especially young people.
Maurice added: “To date, dozens of young people across the world have delivered high quality analyses of the Covid 19 outbreak in their local areas. Some have gone on to develop recommendations a step ahead of official policies and publish their results.”
On April 1st2021 The British Medical Journal published a comprehensive study: “To investigate rates of adherence to the UK’s test, trace, and isolate system over the initial 11 months of the covid-19 pandemic”.
Their finding said: “Levels of adherence to test, trace, and isolate are low, although some improvement has occurred over time. Practical support and financial reimbursement are likely to improve adherence. Targeting messaging and policies to men, younger age groups, and key workers might also be necessary.
The BMJ acknowledges younger people remain at high risk of not adhering to guidance but their solution is financial support and still more messaging. Messaging is not working on its own nor is the financial support already offered. Perhaps Education, still a missing link, can help.
The Emergent Alliance are supporting this educational initiative for anyone, but especially young people by welcoming The Covid 19 Localisation Modelling Group as a member.
You can visit the free tools, read articles written by students and learn more about the group at the TLMG website