Oscillations in USA COVID-19 incidence and mortality data reflect societal factors

Aviv Bergman, Yehonatan Sella, Peter Agre, Arturo Casadevall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic currently in process differs from other infectious disease calamities that have previously plagued humanity in the vast amount of information that is produces each day, which includes daily estimates of the disease incidence and mortality data. Apart from providing actionable information to public health authorities on the trend of the pandemic, the daily incidence reflects the process of disease in a susceptible population and thus reflects the pathogenesis of COVID-19, the public health response and diagnosis and reporting. Both daily new cases and daily mortality data in the US exhibit periodic oscillatory patterns. By analyzing NYC and LA testing data, we demonstrate that this oscillation in the number of cases can be strongly explained by the daily variation in testing. This seems to rule out alternative hypotheses such as increased infections on certain days of the week as driving this oscillation. Similarly, we show that the apparent oscillation in mortality in the US data is mostly an artifact of reporting, which disappears in datasets that record death by episode date, such as the NYC and LA datasets. Periodic oscillations in COVID-19 incidence and mortality data reflect testing and reporting practices and contingencies. Thus, these contingencies should be considered first prior to suggesting social or biological mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jun 12 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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