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

Serina Chang, Emma Pierson, Pang Wei Koh, Jaline Gerardin, Beth Redbird, David Grusky & Jure Leskovec
Nature (2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed human mobility patterns, necessitating epidemiological models which capture the effects of changes in mobility on virus spread1. We introduce a metapopulation SEIR model that integrates fine-grained, dynamic mobility networks to simulate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in 10 of the largest US metropolitan statistical areas. Derived from cell phone data, our mobility networks map the hourly movements of 98 million people from neighborhoods (census block groups, or CBGs) to points of interest (POIs) such as restaurants and religious establishments, connecting 57k CBGs to 553k POIs 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 population behavior over time. Our model predicts that a small minority of “superspreader” POIs account for a large majority of infections and that restricting maximum occupancy at each POI is more effective than uniformly reducing mobility. Our model also correctly predicts higher infection rates among disadvantaged racial and socioeconomic groups2–8 solely from differences in mobility: we find that disadvantaged groups have not been able to reduce mobility as sharply, and that the POIs they visit are more crowded and therefore 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.

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