Power Laws in Superspreading Events: Evidence from Coronavirus Outbreaks and Implications for SIR Models   [open pdf - 0B]

From the Abstract: "While they are rare, superspreading events (SSEs), wherein a few primary cases infect an extraordinarily large number of secondary cases, are recognized as a prominent determinant of aggregate infection rates (R0). Existing stochastic SIR [susceptible-infected-recovered] models incorporate SSEs by fitting distributions with thin tails, or finite variance, and therefore predicting almost deterministic epidemiological outcomes in large populations. This paper documents evidence from recent coronavirus outbreaks, including SARS [Severe acute respiratory syndrome] , MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrom], and COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019], that SSEs follow a power law distribution with fat tails, or infinite variance. We then extend an otherwise standard SIR model with estimated power law distributions, and show that idiosyncratic uncertainties in SSEs will lead to large aggregate uncertainties in infection dynamics, even with large populations. That is, the timing and magnitude of outbreaks will be unpredictable. While such uncertainties have social costs, we also find that they on average decrease the herd immunity thresholds and the cumulative infections because per-period infection rates have decreasing marginal effects. Our findings have implications for social distancing interventions: targeting SSEs reduce not only the average rate of infection (R0) but also its uncertainty. To understand this effect, and to improve inference of the average reproduction numbers under fat tails, estimating the tail distribution of SSEs is vital."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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MIT Economics: http://economics.mit.edu/
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