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In JMIR public health and surveillance

BACKGROUND : In the absence of a cure in the time of pandemics, social distancing measures seem to be the most effective intervention to slow down the spread of disease. Various simulation-based studies have been conducted in the past to investigate the effectiveness of such measures. While those studies unanimously confirm the mitigating effect of social distancing on the disease spread, the reported effectiveness varies from 10% to more than 90% reduction in the number of infections. This level of uncertainty is mostly due to the complex dynamics of epidemics and their time-variant parameters. A real transactional data, however, can reduce the uncertainty and provide a less noisy picture of social distancing effectiveness.

OBJECTIVE : In this paper, we integrate multiple transactional data sets (GPS mobility data from Google and Apple as well as disease statistics data from ECDC) to study the role of social distancing policies in 26 countries wherein the transmission rate of the COVID-19 pandemic is analyzed over the course of five weeks.

METHODS : Relying on the SIR model and official COVID-19 reports, we first calculated the weekly transmission rate (β) of the coronavirus disease in 26 countries for five consecutive weeks. Then we integrated that with the Google's and Apple's mobility data sets for the same time frame and used a machine learning approach to investigate the relationship between mobility factors and β values.

RESULTS : Gradient Boosted Trees (GBT) regression analysis showed that changes in mobility patterns, resulted from social distancing policies, explain around 47% of the variation in the disease transmission rate.

CONCLUSIONS : Consistent with simulation-based studies, real cross-national transactional data confirms the effectiveness of social distancing interventions in slowing down the spread of the disease. Apart from providing less noisy and more generalizable support for the whole social distancing idea, we provide specific insights for public health policy-makers as to what locations should be given a higher priority for enforcing social distancing measures.


Delen Dursun, Eryarsoy Enes, Davazdahemami Behrooz