Google Research

A prospective evaluation of AI-augmented epidemiology to forecast COVID-19 in the USA and Japan

npj Digital Medicine (2021)


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the global need for reliable models of disease spread. We evaluate an AI-improved forecasting approach that provides daily predictions of the expected number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, cases and hospitalizations during the following 28 days. We present an international, prospective evaluation of model performance across all states and counties in the USA and prefectures in Japan. National mean absolute percentage error (MAPE) for predicting COVID-19 associated deaths before and after prospective deployment remained consistently <3% (US) and <10% (Japan). Average statewide (US) and prefecture wide (Japan) MAPE was 6% and 20% respectively (14% when looking at prefectures with more than 10 deaths).We show our model performs well even during periods of considerable change in population behavior, and that it is robust to demographic differences across different geographic locations.We further demonstrate the model provides meaningful explanatory insights, finding that the model appropriately responds to local and national policy interventions. Our model enables counterfactual simulations, which indicate continuing NPIs alongside vaccinations is essential for more rapidly recovering from the pandemic, delaying the application of interventions has a detrimental effect, and allow exploration of the consequences of different vaccination strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a global emergency. In the face of substantial challenges ahead, the approach presented here has the potential to inform critical decisions.

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