Mobility network models of COVID-19 explain inequities and inform reopening

Nature. 2021 Jan;589(7840):82-87. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2923-3. Epub 2020 Nov 10.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic markedly changed human mobility patterns, necessitating epidemiological models that can capture the effects of these changes in mobility on the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)1. Here we introduce a metapopulation susceptible-exposed-infectious-removed (SEIR) model that integrates fine-grained, dynamic mobility networks to simulate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in ten of the largest US metropolitan areas. Our mobility networks are derived from mobile phone data and map the hourly movements of 98 million people from neighbourhoods (or census block groups) to points of interest such as restaurants and religious establishments, connecting 56,945 census block groups to 552,758 points of interest with 5.4 billion hourly edges. We show that by integrating these networks, a relatively simple SEIR model can accurately fit the real case trajectory, despite substantial changes in the behaviour of the population over time. Our model predicts that a small minority of 'superspreader' points of interest account for a large majority of the infections, and that restricting the maximum occupancy at each point of interest is more effective than uniformly reducing mobility. Our model also correctly predicts higher infection rates among disadvantaged racial and socioeconomic groups2-8 solely as the result of differences in mobility: we find that disadvantaged groups have not been able to reduce their mobility as sharply, and that the points of interest that they visit are more crowded and are therefore associated with higher risk. By capturing who is infected at which locations, our model supports detailed analyses that can inform more-effective and equitable policy responses to COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Data Analysis
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Mobile Applications / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Distancing*
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Religion
  • Restaurants / organization & administration
  • Risk Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Time Factors