Trinity research helping policy makers make safer decisions on reopening our communities

Posted on: 14 May 2020

Over the last number of weeks, Ireland has taken public health measures such as closing schools and businesses and encouraging social and physical distancing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Planning for easing of such restrictions is difficult because we don’t know how many people in the community have been infected with the virus but have not shown symptoms.

Professor Catherine Comiskey, Professor in Healthcare statistics at the School of Nursing and Midwifery is leading a study which will use a back-calculation model to estimate the scale of asymptomatic Covid-19 prevalence by age and determine the critical threshold of available susceptible persons within the community.

This research project will estimate the levels of asymptomatic infections to help inform planners and policymakers about a possible second epidemic and how Ireland can ease social restrictions related to COVID-19 over the coming months.

In the early stages of a new epidemic where no vaccine is available all persons are susceptible. As the epidemic progresses and the number of infectious individuals increases the number of susceptible individuals will decrease. However when an epidemic can produce both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases the identification of the numbers infected becomes more important and even more challenging. Yet it is the estimates of this very number that is required to enable decisions on when a community has reached its critical threshold point and when policy makers and planners can advise on school openings, safety for nursing homes and protection of the vulnerable communities.

Professor Comiskey’s synopsis of her research can be viewed here:


Professor Comiskey’s research has been funded by the recently announced ‘COVID-19 Rapid Response Call’ research initiative by the Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council.


Speaking on the importance of this research, Professor Comiskey said:

With this project we plan to provide an estimate of the number of people who may have had COVID-19 and do not know they have had it. These are called the asymptomatic cases. Knowing how many people had COVID-19 and their ages will help policy makers make safer decisions on reopening our communities.