skip to main content

Title: Contact tracing efficiency, transmission heterogeneity, and accelerating COVID-19 epidemics
Simultaneously controlling COVID-19 epidemics and limiting economic and societal impacts presents a difficult challenge, especially with limited public health budgets. Testing, contact tracing, and isolating/quarantining is a key strategy that has been used to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and other pathogens. However, manual contact tracing is a time-consuming process and as case numbers increase a smaller fraction of cases’ contacts can be traced, leading to additional virus spread. Delays between symptom onset and being tested (and receiving results), and a low fraction of symptomatic cases being tested and traced can also reduce the impact of contact tracing on transmission. We examined the relationship between increasing cases and delays and the pathogen reproductive number R t , and the implications for infection dynamics using deterministic and stochastic compartmental models of SARS-CoV-2. We found that R t increased sigmoidally with the number of cases due to decreasing contact tracing efficacy. This relationship results in accelerating epidemics because R t initially increases, rather than declines, as infections increase. Shifting contact tracers from locations with high and low case burdens relative to capacity to locations with intermediate case burdens maximizes their impact in reducing R t (but minimizing total more » infections may be more complicated). Contact tracing efficacy decreased sharply with increasing delays between symptom onset and tracing and with lower fraction of symptomatic infections being tested. Finally, testing and tracing reductions in R t can sometimes greatly delay epidemics due to the highly heterogeneous transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2. These results demonstrate the importance of having an expandable or mobile team of contact tracers that can be used to control surges in cases. They also highlight the synergistic value of high capacity, easy access testing and rapid turn-around of testing results, and outreach efforts to encourage symptomatic cases to be tested immediately after symptom onset. « less
Funk, Sebastian
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
PLOS Computational Biology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Kanagawa and Hokkaido were affected by COVID-19 in the early stage of the pandemic. Japan’s initial response included contact tracing and PCR analysis on anyone who was suspected of having been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. In this retrospective study, we analyzed publicly available COVID-19 registry data from Kanagawa and Hokkaido (n = 4392). Exponential random graph model (ERGM) network analysis was performed to examine demographic and symptomological homophilies. Age, symptomatic, and asymptomatic status homophilies were seen in both prefectures. Symptom homophilies suggest that nuanced genetic differences in the virus may affect its epithelial cell type range and can result in the diversity of symptoms seen in individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2. Environmental variables such as temperature and humidity may also play a role in the overall pathogenesis of the virus. A higher level of asymptomatic transmission was observed in Kanagawa. Moreover, patients who contracted the virus through secondary or tertiary contacts were shown to be asymptomatic more frequently than those who contracted it from primary cases. Additionally, most of the transmissions stopped at the primary and secondary levels. As expected, significant viral transmission was seen in healthcare settings.
  2. Since the emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), unprecedented movement restrictions and social distancing measures have been implemented worldwide. The socioeconomic repercussions have fueled calls to lift these measures. In the absence of population-wide restrictions, isolation of infected individuals is key to curtailing transmission. However, the effectiveness of symptom-based isolation in preventing a resurgence depends on the extent of presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission. We evaluate the contribution of presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission based on recent individual-level data regarding infectiousness prior to symptom onset and the asymptomatic proportion among all infections. We found that the majority of incidences may be attributable to silent transmission from a combination of the presymptomatic stage and asymptomatic infections. Consequently, even if all symptomatic cases are isolated, a vast outbreak may nonetheless unfold. We further quantified the effect of isolating silent infections in addition to symptomatic cases, finding that over one-third of silent infections must be isolated to suppress a future outbreak below 1% of the population. Our results indicate that symptom-based isolation must be supplemented by rapid contact tracing and testing that identifies asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases, in order to safely lift current restrictions and minimize the risk of resurgence.
  3. Abstract Background Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can be an important source of information for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) management during and after the pandemic. Currently, governments and transportation industries around the world are developing strategies to minimize SARS-CoV-2 transmission associated with resuming activity. This study investigated the possible use of SARS-CoV-2 RNA wastewater surveillance from airline and cruise ship sanitation systems and its potential use as a COVID-19 public health management tool. Methods Aircraft and cruise ship wastewater samples (n = 21) were tested for SARS-CoV-2 using two virus concentration methods, adsorption–extraction by electronegative membrane (n = 13) and ultrafiltration by Amicon (n = 8), and five assays using reverse-transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and RT-droplet digital PCR (RT-ddPCR). Representative qPCR amplicons from positive samples were sequenced to confirm assay specificity. Results SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in samples from both aircraft and cruise ship wastewater; however concentrations were near the assay limit of detection. The analysis of multiple replicate samples and use of multiple RT-qPCR and/or RT-ddPCR assays increased detection sensitivity and minimized false-negative results. Representative qPCR amplicons were confirmed for the correct PCR product by sequencing. However, differences in sensitivity were observed among molecular assays and concentrationmore »methods. Conclusions The study indicates that surveillance of wastewater from large transport vessels with their own sanitation systems has potential as a complementary data source to prioritize clinical testing and contact tracing among disembarking passengers. Importantly, sampling methods and molecular assays must be further optimized to maximize detection sensitivity. The potential for false negatives by both wastewater testing and clinical swab testing suggests that the two strategies could be employed together to maximize the probability of detecting SARS-CoV-2 infections amongst passengers.« less
  4. By March 2020, COVID-19 led to thousands of deaths and disrupted economic activity worldwide. As a result of narrow case definitions and limited capacity for testing, the number of unobserved severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections during its initial invasion of the United States remains unknown. We developed an approach for estimating the number of unobserved infections based on data that are commonly available shortly after the emergence of a new infectious disease. The logic of our approach is, in essence, that there are bounds on the amount of exponential growth of new infections that can occur during the first few weeks after imported cases start appearing. Applying that logic to data on imported cases and local deaths in the United States through 12 March, we estimated that 108,689 (95% posterior predictive interval [95% PPI]: 1,023 to 14,182,310) infections occurred in the United States by this date. By comparing the model’s predictions of symptomatic infections with local cases reported over time, we obtained daily estimates of the proportion of symptomatic infections detected by surveillance. This revealed that detection of symptomatic infections decreased throughout February as exponential growth of infections outpaced increases in testing. Between 24 February and 12more »March, we estimated an increase in detection of symptomatic infections, which was strongly correlated (median: 0.98; 95% PPI: 0.66 to 0.98) with increases in testing. These results suggest that testing was a major limiting factor in assessing the extent of SARS-CoV-2 transmission during its initial invasion of the United States.« less
  5. Background The natural history of disease in patients infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) remained obscure during the early pandemic. Aim Our objective was to estimate epidemiological parameters of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and assess the relative infectivity of the incubation period. Methods We estimated the distributions of four epidemiological parameters of SARS-CoV-2 transmission using a large database of COVID-19 cases and potential transmission pairs of cases, and assessed their heterogeneity by demographics, epidemic phase and geographical region. We further calculated the time of peak infectivity and quantified the proportion of secondary infections during the incubation period. Results The median incubation period was 7.2 (95% confidence interval (CI): 6.9‒7.5) days. The median serial and generation intervals were similar, 4.7 (95% CI: 4.2‒5.3) and 4.6 (95% CI: 4.2‒5.1) days, respectively. Paediatric cases < 18 years had a longer incubation period than adult age groups (p = 0.007). The median incubation period increased from 4.4 days before 25 January to 11.5 days after 31 January (p < 0.001), whereas the median serial (generation) interval contracted from 5.9 (4.8) days before 25 January to 3.4 (3.7) days after. The median time from symptom onset to discharge was also shortened from 18.3 before 22 January to 14.1 daysmore »after. Peak infectivity occurred 1 day before symptom onset on average, and the incubation period accounted for 70% of transmission. Conclusion The high infectivity during the incubation period led to short generation and serial intervals, necessitating aggressive control measures such as early case finding and quarantine of close contacts.« less