Regional Infoveillance of COVID-19 Case Rates: Analysis of Search-Engine Query Patterns
Author(s)Cousins, Henry C; Cousins, Clara C; Harris, Alon; Pasquale, Louis R
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Background: Timely allocation of medical resources for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) requires early detection of regional outbreaks. Internet browsing data may predict case outbreaks in local populations that are yet to be confirmed. Objective: We investigated whether search-engine query patterns can help to predict COVID-19 case rates at the state and metropolitan area levels in the United States. Methods: We used regional confirmed case data from the New York Times and Google Trends results from 50 states and 166 county-based designated market areas (DMA). We identified search terms whose activity precedes and correlates with confirmed case rates at the national level. We used univariate regression to construct a composite explanatory variable based on best-fitting search queries offset by temporal lags. We measured the raw and z-transformed Pearson correlation and root-mean-square error (RMSE) of the explanatory variable with out-of-sample case rate data at the state and DMA levels. Results: Predictions were highly correlated with confirmed case rates at the state (mean r=0.69, 95% CI 0.51-0.81; median RMSE 1.27, IQR 1.48) and DMA levels (mean r=0.51, 95% CI 0.39-0.61; median RMSE 4.38, IQR 1.80), using search data available up to 10 days prior to confirmed case rates. They fit case-rate activity in 49 of 50 states and in 103 of 166 DMA at a significance level of .05. Conclusions: Identifiable patterns in search query activity may help to predict emerging regional outbreaks of COVID-19, although they remain vulnerable to stochastic changes in search intensity.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Biological Engineering
Journal of Medical Internet Research
JMIR Publications Inc.
Cousins, Henry C. et al. "Regional Infoveillance of COVID-19 Case Rates: Analysis of Search-Engine Query Patterns." Journal of Medical Internet Research 22, 7 (July 2020): e19483. © 2020 The Authors
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