UT Austin awarded $1M to establish Pandemic Decision Science center

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to establish the UT Center for Pandemic Decision Science at the University of Texas at Austin.

UT Austin says this new interdisciplinary center will bring together scientists, engineers, clinicians and policymakers to tackle the grand challenge of preparing the world to combat future pandemic threats.

The city of Austin's chief medical officer Dr. Mark Escott will be a project leader for this new center. Escott previously served as the interim public health authority for Austin-Travis County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to talk about the Center and what we can learn from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Warren: First of all, tell us what are the goals of this new center?

Dr. Mark Escott: Well, the goals of the center are really to answer three key questions. First, how do we better anticipate future threats and detect them early at their source? The second piece is really anticipating behavior of communities of leaders and basically how they respond or will respond to those threats. And finally, ultimately, how do we better bridge the science and the decision-making of leaders together to ultimately have a better and more robust response?

Mike Warren: What technologies will the center use to try and anticipate and forecast these future threats?

Dr. Mark Escott: We'll be looking back at COVID-19 and how the models built by Dr. Lauren Myers and her team at UT performed during COVID-19 and then trying to enhance those in particular. We're interested in bringing in aspects related to social media and human behavior to help better inform those models.

Mike Warren: You mentioned the pandemic. What other lessons did we learn from the COVID pandemic and what areas can we improve in?

Dr. Mark Escott: Well, one of the key challenges and key interests of this group is really to examine the interplay of the social, economic and political factors that always surround these sorts of outbreaks. If we can better anticipate those, then we can better respond to future threats.

Mike Warren: And as the project leader, what do you hope to bring to that role?

Dr. Mark Escott: Well, I'll be primarily focused on that human aspect behavior, as well as the bridging of science and decision-making. And I hope that our experiences here in Austin during COVID-19 will serve us well. And that in that study.

Mike Warren: You know, with your experience with the pandemic, something like this at UT, is it something that we have been missing?

Dr. Mark Escott: Well, it's something that we had to some extent, and certainly the city and county benefited greatly, as well as the state in many parts of the country by the expertise of Dr. Myers and her team. This concept is really to expand the reach, expand the collaboration of that group to help us create national and potentially international policy associated with pandemics.

Mike Warren: Okay. We are out of time for now. Dr. Mark Escott, as always, thank you very much for joining us and good luck with this endeavor.

Dr. Mark Escott: Thank you.