Abstract: Human infections with a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) were first identified via syndromic surveillance in December of 2019 in Wuhan China. Since identification, infections (coronavirus disease-2019; COVID-19) caused by this novel pathogen have spread globally, with more than 180,000 confirmed cases as of March 16, 2020. Effective public health interventions, including social distancing, contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine rely on the rapid and accurate identification of confirmed cases. However, testing capacity (having sufficient tests and laboratory throughput) to support these non-pharmaceutical interventions remains a challenge for containment and mitigation of COVID-19 infections.
We undertook a sentinel event strategy (where single health events signal emerging trends) to estimate the incidence of COVID-19 in the US. Data from a recent national conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference, (CPAC) near Washington, DC and from the outbreak in Wuhan, China were used to fit a simple exponential growth model to estimate the total number of incident SARSCoV-2 infections in the United States on March 1, 2020, and to forecast subsequent infections potentially undetected by current testing strategies. Our analysis and forecasting estimates a total of 54,100 SARS-CoV-2 infections (80 % CI 5,600 to 125,300) have occurred in the United States to March 12, 2020.
Our forecast predicts that a very substantial number of infections are undetected, and without extensive and far-reaching non-pharmaceutical interventions, the number of infections should be expected to grow at an exponential rate.