Health Life

We designed an experimental AI tool to predict which COVID-19 patients are going to get the sickest

COVID-19 doesn’t create cookie cutter infections. Some people have extremely mild cases while others find themselves fighting for their lives.

Clinicians are working with limited resources against a disease that is very hard to predict. Knowing which patients are most likely to develop severe cases could help guide clinicians during this pandemic.

We are two researchers at New York University that study predictive analytics and infectious diseases. In early January, we realized that it was very possible the new coronavirus in China was going to make its way to New York and we wanted to develop a tool to help clinicians deal with the incoming surge of cases. We thought —a form of artificial intelligence—would be a good technology for this job.

In a general sense, this type of AI looks at existing data to find patterns and then uses those patterns to make predictions about the future. Using data from 53 COVID-19 cases in January and February, we developed a group of algorithms to determine which mildly ill patients were likely become severely ill.

Our experimental tool helped predict which people were going to get the most sick. In doing so, it also found some unexpected early clinical signs that predict severe cases of COVID-19.

The algorithms we designed were trained on a small dataset and at this point are only a proof-of-concept tool, but with more data we believe later versions could be extremely helpful to medical professionals.

How we did the work

To build this tool, we first needed data. We teamed up with an infectious disease specialist, Xiangao Jiang, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China. When we started working on this in early January, Wenzhou had the largest outbreak outside of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital. Between January and February,

Health article

Viola Davis on confronting prediabetes and becoming her own health advocate

Acclaimed actress and producer Viola Davis is a true triple threat as a performer. 

Her work has won her the rare triple crown of acting—an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award—and she’s even won a Tony twice. 

Recently diagnosed with prediabetes, Davis has taken on a new role as an advocate for diabetes education and awareness. 

Davis spoke with NIH MedlinePlus magazine about her new outlook on health and her passion for educating others.

How did you react to your prediabetes diagnosis? 

I was frozen and in shock when I got the diagnosis. I considered myself to be a very healthy woman. I thought I watched what I ate. I exercised. I was not overweight. 

Looking back now, I see I probably had a lot of preconceived notions about diabetes. There is a history of diabetes in my family. My sisters, my great aunt, and other members of my family have type 2 diabetes. 

Did you discuss diabetes in your family?

My sisters would talk amongst themselves about getting diabetes and taking medication. But no one ever talked about what could be done to prevent it. There were a lot of fallacies and old wives’ tales about it. They would refer to diabetes as “You got the sugar.” And people would say things like “Stop eating too much sugar before you get the sugar.” 

We never had that proactive conversation about steps to prevent getting the diagnosis.

Actress and producer Viola Davis, with her sisters Dolores Grant (left) and Dianne Davis-Wright (right), at the premiere of the documentary “A Touch of Sugar.” *

What have you done since your diagnosis?

Knowing that I have prediabetes has empowered me. I didn’t want to get full-blown type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, I had the resources and the presence of mind