Studies of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), have reported varying estimates of epidemiological parameters, including serial interval distributions-i.e., the time between illness onset in successive cases in a transmission chain-and reproduction numbers. By compiling a line-list database of transmission pairs in mainland China, we show that mean serial intervals of COVID-19 shortened substantially from 7.8 to 2.6 days within a month (9 January to 13 February 2020). This change was driven by enhanced nonpharmaceutical interventions, particularly case isolation. We also show that using real-time estimation of serial intervals allowing for variation over time provides more accurate estimates of reproduction numbers than using conventionally fixed serial interval distributions. These findings could improve our ability to assess transmission dynamics, forecast future incidence, and estimate the impact of control measures.
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