A Data-Driven Approach to Pandemic Response

Epidemiologist Sherrine Eid ’97 is leading a software company’s team of experts as they assist clients with disease modeling, contact tracing and other key epidemiologic functions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By: Meghan Kita  Wednesday, July 1, 2020 01:58 PM

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Sherrine Eid ’97

Last month, Sherrine Eid ’97, the global lead for real-world evidence and epidemiology at the software company SAS Institute, Inc., thought the deluge was over. Eid had led the six full-time epidemiologists at SAS who became part of the company’s COVID Scientific Advisory Team through the Epi Response Team, which formed in early March. For that first month or so, her team worked nights and weekends to assist clients around the globe using SAS products to forecast and respond to COVID-19

The company offers software that uses statistics and algorithms to inform a wide variety of industries. During the pandemic, health-care entities; governments outside the U.S.; federal, state and local governments within the U.S.; and large retailers were among those using SAS software for a variety of purposes—from contact tracing and disease modeling to understanding potential supply-chain disruptions. Eid’s Epi Response Team included and worked closely with mathematicians, modeling experts, statisticians and econometricians during this time.

“They had slightly more advanced approaches to analytics and could quickly get us started on what we needed to look at,” says Eid, who was a biology and philosophy double major at Muhlenberg. “Epidemiology as an industry hasn’t seen a pandemic like this in decades. There was no need to advance those methods. COVID kind of shocked the whole system.”

Recently, Eid was thanking her team members for their service and preparing to go back to business as usual—her role usually involves helping epidemiologist and biostatistician clients understand and take advantage of the full capabilities of SAS products.

“Then, we found out there are other entities that want to be able to open,” Eid says. For example, “we’re working with venues to optimize their seating and attendance while minimizing risk.”

Her team of epidemiologists is now meeting twice per week. Colleagues from other teams will run work by them for approval or will ask to brainstorm with them. The epidemiologists are continuing to work with analytics experts from some prominent partners, including the Cleveland Clinic, the CDC and the MITRE Group, and to support smaller entities—like potentially departments of health with limited funding—to ensure they’re able to use SAS products to inform their local COVID response. As the pandemic stretches on while social distancing rules are relaxed, the tools that track testing and contact tracing will become even more critical for limiting further infections.

Though Eid holds a master’s in public health (focused on infectious disease epidemiology) from George Washington University, she often finds herself drawing on what she learned as an undergrad.

“If it weren’t for [late Professor of Biology David] Much’s microbiology and immunology class, I would have never been able to keep up with the biology,” she says. “I cannot emphasize enough the understanding of virology and microbiology that I had from him.”