Ngonghala, C.N., Iboi, E., Eikenberry, S., Scotch, M., MacIntyre, C.R., Bonds, M.H., Gumel, A.B. (2020). Mathematical Biosciences, p.108364.
A pandemic of a novel Coronavirus emerged in December of 2019 (COVID-19), causing devastating public health impact across the world. In the absence of a safe and effective vaccine or antivirals, strategies for controlling and mitigating the burden of the pandemic are focused on non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social-distancing, contact-tracing, quarantine, isolation, and the use of face-masks in public. We develop a new mathematical model for assessing the population-level impact of the aforementioned control and mitigation strategies. Rigorous analysis of the model shows that the disease-free equilibrium is locally-asymptotically stable if a certain epidemiological threshold, known as the reproduction number (denoted by Rc), is less than unity. Simulations of the model, using data relevant to COVID-19 transmission dynamics in the US state of New York and the entire US, show that the pandemic burden will peak in mid and late April, respectively. The worst-case scenario projections for cumulative mortality (based on the baseline levels of anti-COVID non-pharmaceutical interventions considered in the study) decrease dramatically by 80% and 64%, respectively, if the strict social-distancing measures implemented are maintained until the end of May or June, 2020. The duration and timing of the relaxation or termination of the strict social-distancing measures are crucially-important in determining the future trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study shows that early termination of the strict social-distancing measures could trigger a devastating second wave with burden similar to those projected before the onset of the strict social-distancing measures were implemented. The use of efficacious face-masks (such as surgical masks, with estimated efficacy ≥70%) in public could lead to the elimination of the pandemic if at least 70% of the residents of New York state use such masks in public consistently (nationwide, a compliance of at least 80% will be required using such masks). The use of low efficacy masks, such as cloth masks (of estimated efficacy less than 30%), could also lead to significant reduction of COVID-19 burden (albeit, they are not able to lead to elimination). Combining low efficacy masks with improved levels of the other anti-COVID-19 intervention strategies can lead to the elimination of the pandemic. This study emphasizes the important role social-distancing plays in curtailing the burden of COVID-19. Increases in the adherence level of social-distancing protocols result in dramatic reduction of the burden of the pandemic, and the timely implementation of social-distancing measures in numerous states of the US may have averted a catastrophic outcome with respect to the burden of COVID-19. Using face-masks in public (including the low efficacy cloth masks) is very useful in minimizing community transmission and burden of COVID-19, provided their coverage level is high. The masks coverage needed to eliminate COVID-19 decreases if the masks-based intervention is combined with the strict social-distancing strategy.