Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 transmission suggests epidemic control with digital contact tracing

Science. 2020 May 8;368(6491):eabb6936. doi: 10.1126/science.abb6936. Epub 2020 Mar 31.


The newly emergent human virus SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2) is resulting in high fatality rates and incapacitated health systems. Preventing further transmission is a priority. We analyzed key parameters of epidemic spread to estimate the contribution of different transmission routes and determine requirements for case isolation and contact tracing needed to stop the epidemic. Although SARS-CoV-2 is spreading too fast to be contained by manual contact tracing, it could be controlled if this process were faster, more efficient, and happened at scale. A contact-tracing app that builds a memory of proximity contacts and immediately notifies contacts of positive cases can achieve epidemic control if used by enough people. By targeting recommendations to only those at risk, epidemics could be contained without resorting to mass quarantines ("lockdowns") that are harmful to society. We discuss the ethical requirements for an intervention of this kind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Asymptomatic Diseases
  • Basic Reproduction Number
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Cell Phone*
  • China / epidemiology
  • Contact Tracing / ethics
  • Contact Tracing / methods*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Epidemics / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infection Control
  • Mobile Applications* / ethics
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Probability
  • Quarantine
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Time Factors