Fine-Grained Forecasting of COVID-19 Trends at the County Level in the United States

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Mar 25:2024.01.13.24301248. doi: 10.1101/2024.01.13.24301248.


The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, first identified in Wuhan China in December 2019, has profoundly impacted various aspects of daily life, society, healthcare systems, and global health policies. There have been more than half a billion human infections and more than 6 million deaths globally attributable to COVID-19. Although treatments and vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are now available, people continue being hospitalized and dying due to COVID-19 infections. Real-time surveillance of population-level infections, hospitalizations, and deaths has helped public health officials better allocate healthcare resources and deploy mitigation strategies. However, producing reliable, real-time, short-term disease activity forecasts (one or two weeks into the future) remains a practical challenge. The recent emergence of robust time-series forecasting methodologies based on deep learning approaches has led to clear improvements in multiple research fields. We propose a recurrent neural network model named Fine-Grained Infection Forecast Network (FIGI-Net), which utilizes a stacked bidirectional LSTM structure designed to leverage fine-grained county-level data, to produce daily forecasts of COVID-19 infection trends up to two weeks in advance. We show that FIGI-Net improves existing COVID-19 forecasting approaches and delivers accurate county-level COVID-19 disease estimates. Specifically, FIGI-Net is capable of anticipating upcoming sudden changes in disease trends such as the onset of a new outbreak or the peak of an ongoing outbreak, a skill that multiple existing state-of-the-art models fail to achieve. This improved performance is observed across locations and periods. Our enhanced forecasting methodologies may help protect human populations against future disease outbreaks.

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