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UH Law Center Professor Seth Chandler says virus cases at least four times higher than reported

Seth Chandler

The University of Houston Law Center's Law Foundation Professor of Law Seth Chandler.

April 20, 2020 — University of Houston Law Center Professor Seth J. Chandler has developed a mathematical model to estimate that the reported number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States is at most one-quarter of actual cases.

"The number of actual cases has been controversial in light of calls to reopen the country as we supposedly move past peak,“ said Chandler, Law Foundation Professor of Law who specializes in the application of mathematics and computer science to law. “Having a much higher rate of infection than appears is both good and bad news: the good news is that the virus may hurt a far lower percentage of people it infects than is believed; the very bad news, though, for those wanting to reopen the economy, is that the virus still has a greater ability to spread than may be apparent, causing a second wave of hospitalizations and death among those susceptible to it.”

Today’s estimate of 650,000 active infections, he said, likely arises from over 2.5 million current actual infections, perhaps more.

Chandler’s algebraic method takes into account six facts to arrive at the actual number of COVID-19 cases: the nation’s population; the number of tests conducted in a specific time period; the sensitivity of the test used to detect the disease); the specificity of the test; the fraction of those with the disease who are tested; and the fraction of tests coming back positive.

There are a number of assumptions embedded in the computations, which Chandler admits affects his estimates. He has left users free to alter those assumptions and determine the effects on the prevalence of the virus. The model, created in the Wolfram Language, is available here.  

Chandler and the Law Center’s Health Law & Policy Institute hosted a webinar on Feb. 19 which alerted the public, media, and health and safety officials to the dangers of the coronavirus. The webinar was 10 days before the first reported death in the U.S. and well before most foresaw what would become a global pandemic.

Chandler was a first-year winner of the Innovator Award from Wolfram Research. He is the author of more than 100 interactive Demonstrations, 21 Resource Functions, and several Data Repositories on the Wolfram Research website.

Media contacts: Carrie Anna Criado, UH Law Center Assistant Dean of Communications and Marketing, 713-743-2184, cacriado@central.uh.edu; Elena Hawthorne, Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing, 713-743-1125, ehawthor@central.uh.edu; John T. Kling, Communications Manager, 713-743-8298, jtkling@central.uh.edu; and John Brannen, Senior Writer, 713-743-3055, jtbranne@central.uh.edu.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter for excellence in undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city and one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse regions in the country, UH is a federally designated Hispanic- and Asian-American-Serving institution with enrollment of more than 46,000 students.

About the University of Houston Law Center

The University of Houston Law Center (UHLC) is a dynamic, top tier law school located in the nation’s 4th largest city. UHLC’s Health Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Part-time programs rank in the U.S. News Top 10. It awards Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees, through its academic branch, the College of Law. The Law Center is more than just a law school. It is a powerful hub of intellectual activity with more than 11 centers and institutes which fuel its educational mission and national reputation. UHLC is fully accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools.

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