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  1. Despite hundreds of methods published in the literature, forecasting epidemic dynamics remains challenging yet important. The challenges stem from multiple sources, including: the need for timely data, co-evolution of epidemic dynamics with behavioral and immunological adaptations, and the evolution of new pathogen strains. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted these challenges; in an important article, Reich et al. did a comprehensive analysis highlighting many of these challenges.In this paper, we take another step in critically evaluating existing epidemic forecasting methods. Our methods are based on a simple yet crucial observation - epidemic dynamics go through a number of phases (waves). Armed with this understanding, we propose a modification to our deployed Bayesian ensembling case time series forecasting framework. We show that ensembling methods employing the phase information and using different weighting schemes for each phase can produce improved forecasts. We evaluate our proposed method with both the currently deployed model and the COVID-19 forecasthub models. The overall performance of the proposed model is consistent across the pandemic but more importantly, it is ranked third and first during two critical rapid growth phases in cases, regimes where the performance of most models from the CDC forecasting hub dropped significantly.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 27, 2024
  2. Real-time forecasting of non-stationary time series is a challenging problem, especially when the time series evolves rapidly. For such cases, it has been observed that ensemble models consisting of a diverse set of model classes can perform consistently better than individual models. In order to account for the nonstationarity of the data and the lack of availability of training examples, the models are retrained in real-time using the most recent observed data samples. Motivated by the robust performance properties of ensemble models, we developed a Bayesian model averaging ensemble technique consisting of statistical, deep learning, and compartmental models for fore-casting epidemiological signals, specifically, COVID-19 signals. We observed the epidemic dynamics go through several phases (waves). In our ensemble model, we observed that different model classes performed differently during the various phases. Armed with this understanding, in this paper, we propose a modification to the ensembling method to employ this phase information and use different weighting schemes for each phase to produce improved forecasts. However, predicting the phases of such time series is a significant challenge, especially when behavioral and immunological adaptations govern the evolution of the time series. We explore multiple datasets that can serve as leading indicators of trend changes and employ transfer entropy techniques to capture the relevant indicator. We propose a phase prediction algorithm to estimate the phases using the leading indicators. Using the knowledge of the estimated phase, we selectively sample the training data from similar phases. We evaluate our proposed methodology on our currently deployed COVID-19 forecasting model and the COVID-19 ForecastHub models. The overall performance of the proposed model is consistent across the pandemic. More importantly, it is ranked second during two critical rapid growth phases in cases, regimes where the performance of most models from the ForecastHub dropped significantly. 
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  3. Abstract Academic researchers, government agencies, industry groups, and individuals have produced forecasts at an unprecedented scale during the COVID-19 pandemic. To leverage these forecasts, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partnered with an academic research lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to create the US COVID-19 Forecast Hub. Launched in April 2020, the Forecast Hub is a dataset with point and probabilistic forecasts of incident cases, incident hospitalizations, incident deaths, and cumulative deaths due to COVID-19 at county, state, and national, levels in the United States. Included forecasts represent a variety of modeling approaches, data sources, and assumptions regarding the spread of COVID-19. The goal of this dataset is to establish a standardized and comparable set of short-term forecasts from modeling teams. These data can be used to develop ensemble models, communicate forecasts to the public, create visualizations, compare models, and inform policies regarding COVID-19 mitigation. These open-source data are available via download from GitHub, through an online API, and through R packages. 
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  4. Abstract Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) constitute the front-line responses against epidemics. Yet, the interdependence of control measures and individual microeconomics, beliefs, perceptions and health incentives, is not well understood. Epidemics constitute complex adaptive systems where individual behavioral decisions drive and are driven by, among other things, the risk of infection. To study the impact of heterogeneous behavioral responses on the epidemic burden, we formulate a two risk-groups mathematical model that incorporates individual behavioral decisions driven by risk perceptions. Our results show a trade-off between the efforts to avoid infection by the risk-evader population, and the proportion of risk-taker individuals with relaxed infection risk perceptions. We show that, in a structured population, privately computed optimal behavioral responses may lead to an increase in the final size of the epidemic, when compared to the homogeneous behavior scenario. Moreover, we find that uncertain information on the individuals’ true health state may lead to worse epidemic outcomes, ultimately depending on the population’s risk-group composition. Finally, we find there is a set of specific optimal planning horizons minimizing the final epidemic size, which depend on the population structure. 
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  5. This paper describes an integrated, data-driven operational pipeline based on national agent-based models to support federal and state-level pandemic planning and response. The pipeline consists of ( i) an automatic semantic-aware scheduling method that coordinates jobs across two separate high performance computing systems; ( ii) a data pipeline to collect, integrate and organize national and county-level disaggregated data for initialization and post-simulation analysis; ( iii) a digital twin of national social contact networks made up of 288 Million individuals and 12.6 Billion time-varying interactions covering the US states and DC; ( iv) an extension of a parallel agent-based simulation model to study epidemic dynamics and associated interventions. This pipeline can run 400 replicates of national runs in less than 33 h, and reduces the need for human intervention, resulting in faster turnaround times and higher reliability and accuracy of the results. Scientifically, the work has led to significant advances in real-time epidemic sciences.

     
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  6. ABSTRACT We study allocation of COVID-19 vaccines to individuals based on the structural properties of their underlying social contact network. Using a realistic representation of a social contact network for the Commonwealth of Virginia, we study how a limited number of vaccine doses can be strategically distributed to individuals to reduce the overall burden of the pandemic.We show that allocation of vaccines based on individuals’ degree (number of social contacts) and total social proximity time is significantly more effective than the usually used age-based allocation strategy in reducing the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The overall strategy is robust even: (𝑖) if the social contacts are not estimated correctly; (𝑖𝑖) if the vaccine efficacy is lower than expected or only a single dose is given; (𝑖𝑖𝑖) if there is a delay in vaccine production and deployment; and (𝑖𝑣) whether or not non-pharmaceutical interventions continue as vaccines are deployed. For reasons of implementability, we have used degree, which is a simple structural measure and can be easily estimated using several methods, including the digital technology available today. These results are significant, especially for resource-poor countries, where vaccines are less available, have lower efficacy, and are more slowly distributed. 
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  7. Developing techniques to infer the behavior of networked social systems has attracted a lot of attention in the literature. Using a discrete dynamical system to model a networked social system, the problem of inferring the behavior of the system can be formulated as the problem of learning the local functions of the dynamical system. We investigate the problem assuming an active form of interaction with the system through queries. We consider two classes of local functions (namely, symmetric and threshold functions) and two interaction modes, namely batch (where all the queries must be submitted together) and adaptive (where the set of queries submitted at a stage may rely on the answers to previous queries). We establish bounds on the number of queries under both batch and adaptive query modes using vertex coloring and probabilistic methods. Our results show that a small number of appropriately chosen queries are provably sufficient to correctly learn all the local functions. We develop complexity results which suggest that, in general, the problem of generating query sets of minimum size is computationally intractable. We present efficient heuristics that produce query sets under both batch and adaptive query modes. Also, we present a query compaction algorithm that identifies and removes redundant queries from a given query set. Our algorithms were evaluated through experiments on over 20 well-known networks. 
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  8. Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as mask wearing can be effective in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases. Therefore, understanding the behavioral dynamics of NPIs is critical for characterizing the dynamics of disease spread. Nevertheless, standard infection models tend to focus only on disease states, overlooking the dynamics of “beneficial contagions,” e.g., compliance with NPIs. In this work, we investigate the concurrent spread of disease and mask-wearing behavior over multiplex networks. Our proposed framework captures both the competing and complementary relationships between the dueling contagion processes. Further, the model accounts for various behavioral mechanisms that influence mask wearing, such as peer pressure and fear of infection. Our results reveal that under the coupled disease–behavior dynamics, the attack rate of a disease—as a function of transition probability—exhibits a critical transition. Specifically, as the transmission probability exceeds a critical threshold, the attack rate decreases abruptly due to sustained mask-wearing responses. We empirically explore the causes of the critical transition and demonstrate the robustness of the observed phenomena. Our results highlight that without proper enforcement of NPIs, reductions in the disease transmission probability via other interventions may not be sufficient to reduce the final epidemic size. 
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  9. In Spring 2021, the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant began to cause increases in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in parts of the United States. At the time, with slowed vaccination uptake, this novel variant was expected to increase the risk of pandemic resurgence in the US in summer and fall 2021. As part of the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, an ensemble of nine mechanistic models produced 6-month scenario projections for July–December 2021 for the United States. These projections estimated substantial resurgences of COVID-19 across the US resulting from the more transmissible Delta variant, projected to occur across most of the US, coinciding with school and business reopening. The scenarios revealed that reaching higher vaccine coverage in July–December 2021 reduced the size and duration of the projected resurgence substantially, with the expected impacts was largely concentrated in a subset of states with lower vaccination coverage. Despite accurate projection of COVID-19 surges occurring and timing, the magnitude was substantially underestimated 2021 by the models compared with the of the reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occurring during July–December, highlighting the continued challenges to predict the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccination uptake remains critical to limiting transmission and disease, particularly in states with lower vaccination coverage. Higher vaccination goals at the onset of the surge of the new variant were estimated to avert over 1.5 million cases and 21,000 deaths, although may have had even greater impacts, considering the underestimated resurgence magnitude from the model. 
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  10. ABSTRACT Efficient contact tracing and isolation is an effective strategy to control epidemics, as seen in the Ebola epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic. An important consideration in contact tracing is the budget on the number of individuals asked to quarantine—the budget is limited for socioeconomic reasons (e.g., having a limited number of contact tracers). Here, we present a Markov Decision Process (MDP) framework to formulate the problem of using contact tracing to reduce the size of an outbreak while limiting the number of people quarantined. We formulate each step of the MDP as a combinatorial problem, MinExposed, which we demonstrate is NP-Hard. Next, we develop two approximation algorithms, one based on rounding the solutions of a linear program and another (greedy algorithm) based on choosing nodes with a high (weighted) degree. A key feature of the greedy algorithm is that it does not need complete information of the underlying social contact network, making it implementable in practice. Using simulations over realistic networks, we show how the algorithms can help in bending the epidemic curve with a limited number of isolated individuals. 
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