Background: The inherent difficulty of identifying and monitoring emerging outbreaks caused by novel pathogens can lead to their rapid spread; and if left unchecked, they may become major public health threats to the planet. The ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, which has infected over 2,300,000 individuals and caused over 150,000 deaths, is an example of one of these catastrophic events.
Objective: We present a timely and novel methodology that combines disease estimates from mechanistic models and digital traces, via interpretable machine learning methodologies, to reliably forecast COVID-19 activity in Chinese provinces in real time.
Methods: Our method uses the following as inputs: (a) official health reports, (b) COVID-19-related internet search activity, (c) news media activity, and (d) daily forecasts of COVID-19 activity from a metapopulation mechanistic model. Our machine learning methodology uses a clustering technique that enables the exploitation of geospatial synchronicities of COVID-19 activity across Chinese provinces and a data augmentation technique to deal with the small number of historical disease observations characteristic of emerging outbreaks.
Results: Our model is able to produce stable and accurate forecasts 2 days ahead of the current time and outperforms a collection of baseline models in 27 out of 32 Chinese provinces.
Conclusions: Our methodology could be easily extended to other geographies currently affected by COVID-19 to aid decision makers with monitoring and possibly prevention.
Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; digital data; digital epidemiology; emerging outbreak; forecasting; hybrid model; hybrid simulation; machine learning; machine learning in public health; mechanistic model; modeling; modeling disease outbreaks; precision public health; simulation.
©Canelle Poirier, Dianbo Liu, Leonardo Clemente, Xiyu Ding, Matteo Chinazzi, Jessica Davis, Alessandro Vespignani, Mauricio Santillana. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 17.08.2020.