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  1. Epidemiological data about SARS-CoV-2 spread indicate that the virus is not transmitted uniformly in the population. The transmission tends to be more effective in select settings that involve exposure to relatively high viral dose, such as in crowded indoor settings, assisted living facilities, prisons or food processing plants. To explore the effect on infection dynamics, we describe a new mathematical model where transmission can occur (i) in the community at large, characterized by low-dose exposure and mostly mild disease, and (ii) in so-called transmission hot zones, characterized by high-dose exposure that can be associated with more severe disease. The model yields different types of epidemiological dynamics, depending on the relative importance of hot zone and community transmission. Interesting dynamics occur if the rate of virus release/deposition from severely infected people is larger than that of mildly infected individuals. Under this assumption, we find that successful infection spread can hinge upon high-dose hot zone transmission, yet the majority of infections are predicted to occur in the community at large with mild disease. In this regime, residual hot zone transmission can account for continued virus spread during community lockdowns, and the suppression of hot zones after community interventions are relaxed can causemore »a prolonged lack of infection resurgence following the reopening of society. This gives rise to the notion that targeted interventions specifically reducing virus transmission in the hot zones have the potential to suppress overall infection spread, including in the community at large. Epidemiological trends in the USA and Europe are interpreted in light of this model.« less
  2. We have analysed the COVID-19 epidemic data of more than 174 countries (excluding China) in the period between 22 January and 28 March 2020. We found that some countries (such as the USA, the UK and Canada) follow an exponential epidemic growth, while others (like Italy and several other European countries) show a power law like growth. Regardless of the best fitting law, many countries can be shown to follow a common trajectory that is similar to Italy (the epicentre at the time of analysis), but with varying degrees of delay. We found that countries with ‘younger’ epidemics, i.e. countries where the epidemic started more recently, tend to exhibit more exponential like behaviour, while countries that were closer behind Italy tend to follow a power law growth. We hypothesize that there is a universal growth pattern of this infection that starts off as exponential and subsequently becomes more power law like. Although it cannot be excluded that this growth pattern is a consequence of social distancing measures, an alternative explanation is that it is an intrinsic epidemic growth law, dictated by a spatially distributed community structure, where the growth in individual highly mixed communities is exponential but the longer term,more »local geographical spread (in the absence of global mixing) results in a power law. This is supported by computer simulations of a metapopulation model that gives rise to predictions about the growth dynamics that are consistent with correlations found in the epidemiological data. Therefore, seeing a deviation from straight exponential growth may be a natural progression of the epidemic in each country. On the practical side, this indicates that (i) even in the absence of strict social distancing interventions, exponential growth is not an accurate predictor of longer term infection spread, and (ii) a deviation from exponential spread and a reduction of estimated doubling times do not necessarily indicate successful interventions, which are instead indicated by a transition to a reduced power or by a deviation from power law behaviour.« less