CDC to Launch Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics

Aug. 18, 2021
The new center’s goal is to accelerate access to data for public health decision-makers who need information to mitigate the effects of disease threats

Seeking to ensure that the United States is better prepared to respond to outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is creating a center designed to advance the use of forecasting and outbreak analytics in public health decision making.

The stated goal of the Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics is to bring together public health data, expert disease modelers, public health emergency responders, and high-quality communications, to meet the needs of decision makers. CDC said the new center would accelerate access to and use of data for public health decision-makers who need information to mitigate the effects of disease threats, such as social and economic disruption. The center will prioritize equity and accessibility, while serving as a hub for innovation and research on disease modeling.

“This is an amazing opportunity for CDC and public health as we stand up the country’s first government-wide public health forecasting center,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., in a statement. “We are excited to have the expertise and ability to model and forecast public health concerns and share information in real-time to activate governmental, private sector, and public actions in anticipation of threats both domestically and abroad.”

The center, with initial funding from the American Rescue Plan, will focus on three key functions:

Predict: Undertake modeling and forecasting; enhance the ability to determine the foundational data sources needed; support research and innovation in outbreak analytics and science for real-time action; and establish appropriate forecasting horizons.

Connect: Expand broad capability for data sharing and integration; maximize interoperability with data standards and utilize open-source software and application programming interface capabilities, with existing and new data streams from the public health ecosystem and beyond.

Inform: Translate and communicate forecasts; connect with key decision-makers across sectors including government, businesses, and non-profits, along with individuals with strong intergovernmental affairs and communication capacity for action.

The new leadership team charged with the development and implementation of a plan to establish the center includes Marc Lipsitch, currently a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who will serve as Director for Science. “The new center will meet a longstanding need for a national focal point to analyze data and forecast the trajectory of pandemics with the express goal of informing and improving decisions with the best available evidence,” said Lipsitch, in a statement.  “I am thrilled to be working with a great team at CDC to set it up, and excited to integrate the best and most innovative ideas from academia, the private sector, and government to make this a reality that will truly improve our response to future pandemics, and indeed to other infectious diseases.”

Other leaders include Dylan George, Ph.D., who will serve as Director for Operations; Caitlin Rivers, Ph.D., who will serve as Associate Director; and Rebecca Kahn, Ph.D., who will serve as Senior Scientist.

“I am thrilled to be joining an exceptional team at CDC to build new capabilities for the fight against pandemics,” said Dylan George. “Pandemics threaten our families and communities at speed and scale – our response needs to move at speed and scale, too.  The Center will provide critical information to communities so we can respond efficiently and effectively.  The U.S. desperately needs this capability, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help build it.”

Some regional and state-level leaders are concerned about public health data sharing approaches being developed in a manner perceived as too top-down. On Twitter, Lisa Bari, interim CEO of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), wrote, “Of course there is a role here for this work, but there are so many regional and statewide organizations already using and exchanging data for public health surveillance purposes, both nonprofit and for-profit technology firms. Not working with these organizations collaboratively for this center would be a huge miss and will likely result in something unusable by state and local public health departments.”

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