Noblis Interns Track COVID-19 Diagnostic Coverage in Virginia

Interns worked closely with experts from around the company to solve real-world challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Noblis Summer Intern program, which was named in 2020 as one of the Top 100 Internship Programs in the nation by WayUp, provides students with real-world experience and the opportunity to work alongside leading professionals in science, technology, engineering and business. This year, interns worked closely with experts from around the company to solve real-world challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with vaccine distribution, comprehensive testing is a critical part of our national strategy to contain transmission, and one team from this year’s group focused on applications of testing to help policymakers manage their response to the pandemic, applying Noblis’ expertise and innovation for the public interest. The team developed a tool to help understand testing coverage and positivity rates to determine areas in need of increased focus, and to better inform reopening plans.

The interns extracted data from various sources using a scripting language, and then developed an algorithm to determine high-risk areas in Virginia. Information sources included census data; data from the Virginia Department of Health; and data on high-risk conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, poverty and age. The algorithm developed examined historical demographic data as well as polymerase chain reactions, which detect active infection, to generate county-based risk calculations.

Algorithm calculations were determined based on Center for Disease Control sources on people with medical conditions needing increased precautions. In addition, factors such as population rates of active infection, senior populations, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular deaths, HIV and AIDS, smoking and poverty were considered. With this information, the team created a dashboard to visualize data and the result of their analyses.

The team’s mentor, Senior Scientist Dr. Leo Thompson, said, “It was really interesting and gratifying to see the team take this and run with it. They learned very quickly, and I was blown away by what they came up with in such a short period of time.”

Noblis’ Vice President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chris Barnett, offered additional praise for the interns and the impact of their work: “The pandemic is impacting our economy and health delivery system in so many ways. The interns really excelled at analyzing those impacts and assessing potential policy tradeoffs through a series of related data analytics challenges. The hard work, technical ingenuity, and original thinking shown by these students during this National crisis is really impressive.”

The team’s work garnered interest from data scientists from Virginia’s Department of Health, who requested to see what the interns developed at Noblis.

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While the dashboard creation completed the interns’ work on this effort, the project inspired the Noblis team who participated in the annual Virginia Datathon challenge, which focused on “Communities and COVID-19.” The team examined challenges to Virginia’s communities to the diverse vulnerabilities caused by COVID-19 outcomes.

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