Assessing Early Heterogeneity in Doubling Times of the Covid-19 Epidemic Across Prefectures in Mainland China, January-February, 2020

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To describe the geographical heterogeneity of COVID-19 across prefectures in mainland China, we estimated doubling times from daily time series of the cumulative case count between 24 January and 24 February 2020. We analyzed the prefecture-level COVID-19 case burden using linear regression models and used the local Moran’s I to test for spatial autocorrelation and clustering. Four hundred prefectures (~98% population) had at least one COVID-19 case and 39 prefectures had zero cases by 24 February 2020. Excluding Wuhan and those prefectures where there was only one case or none, 76 (17.3% of 439) prefectures had an arithmetic mean of the epidemic doubling time(−0.012, 95% CI, −0.017, −0.006) where the cumulative case count doubled ≥3 times. Spatial analysis revealed high case count clusters in Hubei and Heilongjiang and fast epidemic growth in several metropolitan areas by mid-February 2020. Prefectures in Hubei and neighboring provinces and several metropolitan areas in coastal and northeastern China experienced rapid growth with cumulative case count doubling multiple times with a small mean doubling time.


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