Like people in virtually every corner of society, professor Malik Magdon-Ismail has been adjusting to a new way of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not on the front lines, so I’m thinking what can I do to help?” Magdon-Ismail said Friday.

A researcher and computer science professor at RPI, Malik Magdon-Ismail, says he’s spent much of his time in quarantine developing a new statistical model that forecasts how the coronavirus behaves and spreads in different regions.

“If you, for example, compare New York City to Albany, how quickly the disease is spreading in New York City versus Albany is very different,” Magdon-Ismail said.

Magdon-Ismail’s model is built with the New York State Department of Health’s reports on daily COVID-19 infections in different counties. A black line on Magdon-Ismail’s charts indicates when the virus is forecasted to peak and how long it will take for the curve to flatten.

“There are two things that affect the black curve,” Magdon-Ismail said. “How quickly the disease is spread and how many people are available for it to spread to.”

Applicable in any community, Magdon-Ismail says the model is able to gauge those factors by accounting for population density and the percentage of people observing social distancing.

“With more social distancing and more stay at home orders, the curve flattens later but at a lower number,” he said.

In New York City where population density is much higher, Magdon-Ismail’s research forecasts a late April peak. In Albany, it predicts a later peak but with a much lower infection rate.

“Albany has way fewer people to infect but it is infecting at a much slower rate because we have managed to social distance much more effectively,” he said. “So a peak is further out than New York City.”

By being able to adjust the social distancing variable, Magdon-Ismail says local leaders could use the model to gauge the impact of relaxing stay-at-home orders at different times.

“What if 50 percent of people started moving around or if 90 percent of people started moving around?” Magdon-Ismail pondered. “What could happen at 90 percent is the virus says ‘oh wow, there are a lot more people for me to infect.’”

With the RPI campus closed to students and professors, Magdon-Ismail says providing useful data to decision-makers is his way of contributing during an uncertain time.

“That's my contribution to the front line, if you will,” Magdon-Ismail said. “I’m not at the front line but I feel like I need to do something.”