A Social Network Model of COVID-19

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Karaivanov, A. (2020). A social network model of COVID-19. PLOS ONE, 15(10), e0240878. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240878.

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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240878

I construct a dynamic social-network model of the COVID-19 epidemic which embeds the SIR epidemiological model onto a graph of person-to-person interactions. The standard SIR framework assumes uniform mixing of infectious persons in the population. This abstracts from important elements of realism and locality: (i) people are more likely to interact with members of their social networks and (ii) health and economic policies can affect differentially the rate of viral transmission via a person’s social network vs. the population as a whole. The proposed network-augmented (NSIR) model allows the evaluation, via simulations, of (i) health and economic policies and outcomes for all or subset of the population: lockdown/distancing, herd immunity, testing, contact tracing; (ii) behavioral responses and/or imposing or lifting policies at specific times or conditional on observed states. I find that viral transmission over a network-connected population can proceed slower and reach lower peak than transmission via uniform mixing. Network connections introduce uncertainty and path dependence in the epidemic dynamics, with a significant role for bridge links and superspreaders. Testing and contact tracing are more effective in the network model. If lifted early, distancing policies mostly shift the infection peak into the future, with associated economic costs. Delayed or intermittent interventions or endogenous behavioral responses generate a multi-peaked infection curve, a form of ‘curve flattening’, but may have costlier economic consequences by prolonging the epidemic duration.

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