Identifying the High-Risk Population for COVID-19 Transmission in Hong Kong Leveraging Explainable Machine Learning

Healthcare (Basel). 2022 Aug 25;10(9):1624. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10091624.


The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has caused significant damage to people's health and economics. Many works have leveraged machine learning models to facilitate the control and treatment of COVID-19. However, most of them focus on clinical medicine and few on understanding the spatial dynamics of the high-risk population for transmission of COVID-19 in real-world settings. This study aims to investigate the association between population features and COVID-19 transmission risk in Hong Kong, which can help guide the allocation of medical resources and the implementation of preventative measures to control the spread of the pandemic. First, we built machine learning models to predict the number of COVID-19 cases based on the population features of different tertiary planning units (TPUs). Then, we analyzed the distribution of cases and the prediction results to find specific characteristics of TPUs leading to large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19. We further evaluated the importance and influence of various population features on the prediction results using SHAP values to identify indicators for high-risk populations for COVID-19 transmission. The evaluation of COVID-19 cases and the TPU dataset in Hong Kong shows the effectiveness of the proposed methods. The top three most important indicators are identified as people in accommodation and food services, low income, and high population density.

Keywords: COVID-19; SHAP; explainable machine learning; high-risk population; population features; tertiary planning unit.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.