An Early Warning Approach to Monitor COVID-19 Activity with Multiple Digital Traces in Near Real-Time

ArXiv. 2020 Jul 1;arXiv:2007.00756v2. Preprint


Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) have been crucial in curbing COVID-19 in the United States (US). Consequently, relaxing NPIs through a phased re-opening of the US amid still-high levels of COVID-19 susceptibility could lead to new epidemic waves. This calls for a COVID-19 early warning system. Here we evaluate multiple digital data streams as early warning indicators of increasing or decreasing state-level US COVID-19 activity between January and June 2020. We estimate the timing of sharp changes in each data stream using a simple Bayesian model that calculates in near real-time the probability of exponential growth or decay. Analysis of COVID-19-related activity on social network microblogs, Internet searches, point-of-care medical software, and a metapopulation mechanistic model, as well as fever anomalies captured by smart thermometer networks, shows exponential growth roughly 2-3 weeks prior to comparable growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3-4 weeks prior to comparable growth in COVID-19 deaths across the US over the last 6 months. We further observe exponential decay in confirmed cases and deaths 5-6 weeks after implementation of NPIs, as measured by anonymized and aggregated human mobility data from mobile phones. Finally, we propose a combined indicator for exponential growth in multiple data streams that may aid in developing an early warning system for future COVID-19 outbreaks. These efforts represent an initial exploratory framework, and both continued study of the predictive power of digital indicators as well as further development of the statistical approach are needed.

Publication types

  • Preprint