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In PLoS computational biology

The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen is currently spreading worldwide and its propensity for presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission makes it difficult to control. The control measures adopted in several countries aim at isolating individuals once diagnosed, limiting their social interactions and consequently their transmission probability. These interventions, which have a strong impact on the disease dynamics, can affect the inference of the epidemiological quantities. We first present a theoretical explanation of the effect caused by non-pharmaceutical intervention measures on the mean serial and generation intervals. Then, in a simulation study, we vary the assumed efficacy of control measures and quantify the effect on the mean and variance of realized generation and serial intervals. The simulation results show that the realized serial and generation intervals both depend on control measures and their values contract according to the efficacy of the intervention strategies. Interestingly, the mean serial interval differs from the mean generation time. The deviation between these two values depends on two factors. First, the number of undiagnosed infectious individuals. Second, the relationship between infectiousness, symptom onset and timing of isolation. Similarly, the standard deviations of realized serial and generation intervals do not coincide, with the former shorter than the latter on average. The findings of this study are directly relevant to estimates performed for the current COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the effective reproduction number is often inferred using both daily incidence data and the generation interval. Failing to account for either contraction or mis-specification by using the serial interval could lead to biased estimates of the effective reproduction number. Consequently, this might affect the choices made by decision makers when deciding which control measures to apply based on the value of the quantity thereof.

Torneri Andrea, Libin Peter, Scalia Tomba Gianpaolo, Faes Christel, Wood James G, Hens Niel