The team at UTHealth used artificial intelligence to create a model based on cases in China and Italy, and applied the data to 150 countries around the world. As the virus spread to the U.S., the modeling was used first at the state level and then the major metropolitan areas in Texas, including Houston.
WATCH: UTHealth talks about monitoring COVID-19 symptoms
They estimated that if strict interventions began immediately, the number of coronavirus cases could grow to approximately 3,500 by the anticipated end of the infection, which would be approximately May 12 in the Houston area.
The end of infection is when there is no significant person-to-person transfer of the virus.
Under this model, the peak of the virus in the Houston area would be April 7 with approximately 1,800 cases at that time.
"This latter number is an important figure because it is helping hospitals, clinics, and physicians to plan accordingly," said Dr. Eric Boerwinkle, dean and M. David Lowe Chair in Public Health at UTHealth School of Public Health. "This is part of our mission at the School of Public Health: to give leaders the information they need to make sound public policy and health care decisions."
The team predicts that if strict interventions were delayed one week, the total number of cases would rise to 24,000 and if delayed two weeks, cases would climb to 153,000.
"Although there are a lot of numbers and a lot of details, we saw two consistent patterns: earlier intervention was better, and more stringent intervention was better than less stringent," Boerwinkle said. "It is also heartening to see that Texas generally fares better than many states in the top tier of case numbers."
A separate study out of UTHealth pinpointed Harris County areas where the population is the most vulnerable because of age and chronic conditions.
"Early information out of China indicated that age was the major factor predicting severity. After we began receiving data from the U.S. and Europe, we started seeing the impact of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure," Boerwinkle said.
"We need to make sure that all Houstonians and area residents have ready access to quality health care and our work at UTHealth and the other institutions in the Texas Medical Center is committed to that objective," Boerwinkle said.
To be clear, the May date would not signal complete freedom from risk of contracting COVID-19.
"The end is defined by, you know, when will we not have significant numbers of community transmission, that's the definition of the end," said Dr. Eric Boerwinkle.
The video above is from previous reporting.