Throughout March 2020, leaders in countries across the world were making crucial decisions about how and when to implement public health interventions to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). They urgently needed tools to help them to explore what will work best in their specific circumstances of epidemic size and spread, and feasible intervention scenarios.
We sought to rapidly develop a flexible, freely available simulation model for use by modelers and researchers to allow investigation of how various public health interventions implemented at various time points might change the shape of the COVID-19 epidemic curve.
"COVOID" (COVID-19 Open-Source Infection Dynamics) is a stochastic individual contact model (ICM), which extends the ICMs provided by the open-source EpiModel package for the R statistical computing environment. To demonstrate its use and inform urgent decisions on March 30, 2020, we modeled similar intervention scenarios to those reported by other investigators using various model types, as well as novel scenarios. The scenarios involved isolation of cases, moderate social distancing, and stricter population "lockdowns" enacted over varying time periods in a hypothetical population of 100,000 people. On April 30, 2020, we simulated the epidemic curve for the three contiguous local areas (population 287,344) in eastern Sydney, Australia that recorded 5.3% of Australian cases of COVID-19 through to April 30, 2020, under five different intervention scenarios and compared the modeled predictions with the observed epidemic curve for these areas.
COVOID allocates each member of a population to one of seven compartments. The number of times individuals in the various compartments interact with each other and their probability of transmitting infection at each interaction can be varied to simulate the effects of interventions. Using COVOID on March 30, 2020, we were able to replicate the epidemic response patterns to specific social distancing intervention scenarios reported by others. The simulated curve for three local areas of Sydney from March 1 to April 30, 2020, was similar to the observed epidemic curve in terms of peak numbers of cases, total numbers of cases, and duration under a scenario representing the public health measures that were actually enacted, including case isolation and ramp-up of testing and social distancing measures.
COVOID allows rapid modeling of many potential intervention scenarios, can be tailored to diverse settings, and requires only standard computing infrastructure. It replicates the epidemic curves produced by other models that require highly detailed population-level data, and its predicted epidemic curve, using parameters simulating the public health measures that were enacted, was similar in form to that actually observed in Sydney, Australia. Our team and collaborators are currently developing an extended open-source COVOID package comprising of a suite of tools to explore intervention scenarios using several categories of models.