A new forecasting tool estimates Hawaii could see between 248 and 285 new COVID-19 cases confirmed within the next two weeks.

The Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group, or HiPAM, launched the tool as an effort to better inform policy decision-making as Hawaii responds to the disease, such as travel restrictions or shelter-in-place mandates.

The tool sticks to a two-week forecast, nothing longer.

“We wanted to make it as time sensitive and accurate as possible,” said Thomas Lee, an epidemiologist and the COVID-19 forecaster for Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 Emergency Response Team.

A new forecast shows as many as 285 new cases of COVID-19 could be reported within the next 14 days in Hawaii. HIPAM

HiPAM is a volunteer collective that aims to track COVID-19 specifically for Hawaii by including geography, age, contact tracing capabilities and the rate of growth of known case clusters — elements not always clear from daily health department reports.

Using COVID-19 data from the past several months, the team’s graph outlines possible scenarios for COVID-19 infection counts, hospitalizations and fatalities.

It was developed in partnership with the University of Hawaii Applied Research Lab, which adapted an open source tool from Switzerland’s University of Basel and integrated it with historical data about COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Hawaii.

The team uses five-day daily case averages and Hawaii-specific population data.  Age, for example, plays a large role in how well people recover after falling ill. These sorts of elements may affect the forecast.

There are various ways of tracking the disease, but focusing solely on hospital capacity or the number of open intensive care unit beds has limitations, Lee said. That’s why the group aims to improve the model, using other factors such as ethnicity going forward.

Tracking hospital capacity on its own would not be sufficient.

“By the time the beds fill up it’s too late to make impactful change or reduction by messaging and education,” Lee said. “We’d have to resort to more mitigation strategies of shutting down restaurants or bars, which is what we’re trying to avoid.”

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