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Recurring Spatiotemporal Patterns of COVID-19 in the United States

By Hawre Jalal, Kyueun Lee, Donald S. Burke

Posted 24 Nov 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.11.23.21266775

We analyzed the waxing and waning patterns ('surges') of reported SARS-CoV-2 cases from January 1, 2020 through Oct 31, 2021 in all states and provinces (n = 93) in the USA, Mexico, and Canada, and across all counties (N = 3142) in the USA. A correlation matrix of the 576 x 576 daily case incidence rates in the 50 US states generates a distinctive 'checkerboard' pattern showing that the epidemic has consisted of seven distinct internally coherent spatiotemporal wave patterns, four in the first year of the epidemic, and three thus far in the second year. Geoclustering of state case rate trajectories reveals three dominant co-varying spatial clusters of similar case rate trajectories, in the northeastern, southeastern and central/western regions of the USA. The spatiotemporal patterns of epidemic year 1 have thus far been repeated (p<.001) in epidemic year 2. The 'checkerboard' pattern of the correlation matrix of case trajectories can be closely simulated as three sets of interacting sine waves with annual frequencies of 1:1:2 major cycles per year, corresponding to the northeastern, central/western, and southeastern state clusters. Case incidence patterns in Mexico and Canada have been similar to nearby regions in the southern US and the northern US, respectively. Time lapse videos allow visualization of the wave patterns. These highly structured geographical and temporal patterns, coupled with emerging evidence of annual repetition of these same patterns, show that SARS-CoV-2 case rates are driven at least in part by predictable seasonal factors.

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