Estimation of the Actual Incidence of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Emergent Hotspots: The Example of Hokkaido, Japan during February-March 2020.


Following the first report of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Sapporo city, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, on 14 February 2020, a surge of cases was observed in Hokkaido during February and March. As of 6 March, 90 cases were diagnosed in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, many infected persons may not have been recognized due to having mild or no symptoms during the initial months of the outbreak. We therefore aimed to predict the actual number of COVID-19 cases in (i) Hokkaido Prefecture and (ii) Sapporo city using data on cases diagnosed outside these areas. Two statistical frameworks involving a balance equation and an extrapolated linear regression model with a negative binomial link were used for deriving both estimates, respectively. The estimated cumulative incidence in Hokkaido as of 27 February was 2,297 cases (95% confidence interval (CI): 382-7091) based on data on travelers outbound from Hokkaido. The cumulative incidence in Sapporo city as of 28 February was estimated at 2233 cases (95% CI: 0-4893) based on the count of confirmed cases within Hokkaido. Both approaches resulted in similar estimates, indicating a higher incidence of infections in Hokkaido than were detected by the surveillance system. This quantification of the gap between detected and estimated cases helped to inform the public health response at the beginning of the pandemic and provided insight into the possible scope of undetected transmission for future assessments.

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