This OHSU Data Scientist Crunched the Numbers That Shut Down Oregon. Here’s What He Sees Now.

Peter Graven built a model to see what would happen if the state took no social distancing precautions.

Oregon Health and Science University. (Wesley Lapointe)

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Peter Graven is a numbers guy. The lead data scientist at Oregon Health & Science University and a teacher in health economics, Graven, 42, is more comfortable with a spreadsheet than most. But as one of 16,000 employees at the medical school and research hospital, he never drew much notice.

Until COVID-19 arrived on our shores.

On Feb. 28, the first COVID case in Oregon was announced. At 5 the next morning, Graven was pulling data to see what sort of health care challenges Oregon would face.

As a person responsible for forecasting hospital occupancy, Graven built a model to see what would happen if the state took no social distancing precautions.

By the week of March 12, Graven shared his findings with OHSU's leaders. And his model showed that within a month, the state would be overwhelmed. Cases would double every six days.

Dr. Renee Edwards, senior vice president and chief medical officer for OHSU Healthcare, recently described seeing those projections.

"It scared me to death," she said. "We were already preparing for the pandemic, but we were talking in generalities. Peter's model made COVID-19 an absolute stark reality."

Several sources tell WW the models were shown to Gov. Kate Brown—and had a similar effect on her. At any rate, it was just two days later that Brown closed Oregon's public schools. Within a week, she issued a stay-home order that's still in effect.

WW editor and publisher Mark Zusman spoke with Graven about what the data is showing him now.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.