As the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting the U.S. in March, Dr. Leigh Lunsford saw a unique opportunity for her MATH 301 Applied Statistics class to test their skills in a real-world situation.

The use of statistical methods is a key element in epidemiology. With numbers related to the spreading virus—and the response to it—readily available, Lunsford, professor of mathematics at Longwood, decided to assign her students a project based on the pandemic.

Students indicated that they really enjoyed and were very interested in having a project that was relevant to current events and that it helped them to understand what they were hearing on the news.

Dr. Leigh Lunsford, professor of mathematics Tweet This

The goal of the project was to determine if Virginia was flattening its logistic curve of Covid-19 cases—in other words, was there a daily decrease in the growth rate of the total number of cases.

The class used data from the New York Times, which was tracking Covid-19 cases by state, covering the time period March 11 through April 6.

“Students used simple linear regression techniques to estimate the exponential growth rate of the logistic curve over specified days to determine whether Virginia was flattening the curve,” Lunsford said. “They were asked to include how the results they found coincided with Virginia residents’ social distancing efforts and, in particular, Governor Northam’s directives.”

The project allowed her math students to learn more about the spread of infectious diseases and how the total number of cases in a population over time can be modelled. Lunsford said that her students did well on the project and that the feedback she received was very positive overall.

“They indicated that they really enjoyed and were very interested in having a project that was relevant to current events and that it helped them to understand what they were hearing on the news,” Lunsford said.

“It was cool to be able to use data from a real-world event for this report,” said one student in the class. “It made me more informed about the situation happening in our state right now. I also found it interesting to learn how statistics are playing such a major role in this pandemic and being used to make big decisions.”

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