TY - JOUR
T1 - A network-based explanation of why most COVID-19 infection curves are linear
JF - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
JO - Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
SP - 22684
LP - 22689
DO - 10.1073/pnas.2010398117
VL - 117
IS - 37
AU - Thurner, Stefan
AU - Klimek, Peter
AU - Hanel, Rudolf
Y1 - 2020/09/15
UR - http://www.pnas.org/content/117/37/22684.abstract
N2 - For many countries a plain-eye inspection of the COVID-19 infection curves reveals a remarkable linear growth over extended time periods. This observation is practically impossible to understand with traditional epidemiological models. These, to make them expressible in compact mathematical form, typically ignore the structure of real contact networks that are essential in the characteristic spreading dynamics of COVID-19. Here we show that by properly taking some relevant network features into account, linear growth can be naturally explained. Further, the effect of nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), like national lockdowns, can be modeled with a remarkable degree of precision without fitting or fine-tuning of parameters.Many countries have passed their first COVID-19 epidemic peak. Traditional epidemiological models describe this as a result of nonpharmaceutical interventions pushing the growth rate below the recovery rate. In this phase of the pandemic many countries showed an almost linear growth of confirmed cases for extended time periods. This new containment regime is hard to explain by traditional models where either infection numbers grow explosively until herd immunity is reached or the epidemic is completely suppressed. Here we offer an explanation of this puzzling observation based on the structure of contact networks. We show that for any given transmission rate there exists a critical number of social contacts, Dc, below which linear growth and low infection prevalence must occur. Above Dc traditional epidemiological dynamics take place, e.g., as in susceptible–infected–recovered (SIR) models. When calibrating our model to empirical estimates of the transmission rate and the number of days being contagious, we find Dc∼7.2. Assuming realistic contact networks with a degree of about 5, and assuming that lockdown measures would reduce that to household size (about 2.5), we reproduce actual infection curves with remarkable precision, without fitting or fine-tuning of parameters. In particular, we compare the United States and Austria, as examples for one country that initially did not impose measures and one that responded with a severe lockdown early on. Our findings question the applicability of standard compartmental models to describe the COVID-19 containment phase. The probability to observe linear growth in these is practically zero.All study data are included in this article and SI Appendix.
ER -