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In EClinicalMedicine

Background : Many countries have implemented lockdowns to reduce COVID-19 transmission. However, there is no consensus on the optimal timing of these lockdowns to control community spread of the disease. Here we evaluated the relationship between timing of lockdowns, along with other risk factors, and the growth trajectories of COVID-19 across 3,112 counties in the US.

Methods : We ascertained dates for lockdowns and implementation of various non-pharmaceutical interventions at a county level and merged these data with those of US census and county-specific COVID-19 daily cumulative case counts. We then applied a Functional Principal Component (FPC) analysis on this dataset to generate FPC scores, which were used as a surrogate variable to describe the trajectory of daily cumulative case counts for each county. We used machine learning methods to identify risk factors including the timing of lockdown that significantly influenced the FPC scores.

Findings : We found that the first eigen-function accounted for most (>92%) of the variations in the daily cumulative case counts. The impact of lockdown timing on the total daily case count of a county became significant beginning approximately 7 days prior to that county reporting at least 5 cumulative cases of COVID-19. Delays in lockdown implementation after this date led to a rapid acceleration of COVID-19 spread in the county over the first ~50 days from the date with at least 5 cumulative cases, and higher case counts across the entirety of the follow-up period. Other factors such as total population, median family income, Gini index, median age, and within-county mobility also had a substantial effect. When adjusted for all these factors, the timing of lockdowns was the most significant risk factor associated with the county-specific daily cumulative case counts.

Interpretation : Lockdowns are an effective way of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in communities. Significant delays in lockdown cause a dramatic increase in the cumulative case counts. Thus, the timing of the lockdown relative to the case count is an important consideration in controlling the pandemic in communities.

Huang Xiaolin, Shao Xiaojian, Xing Li, Hu Yushan, Sin Don D, Zhang Xuekui

2021-Jul-16

Covid-19, Elastic net, Functional principal component analysis, Lockdown