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Population density and basic reproductive number of COVID-19 across United States counties.

Abstract

The basic reproductive number (R0) is a function of contact rates among individuals, transmission probability, and duration of infectiousness. We sought to determine the association between population density and R0 of SARS-CoV-2 across U.S. counties, and whether population density could be used as a proxy for contact rates. We conducted a cross-sectional analysis using linear mixed models with random intercept and fixed slopes to assess the association of population density and R0. We also assessed whether this association was differential across county-level main mode of transportation-to-work percentage. Counties with greater population density have greater rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, likely due to increased contact rates in areas with greater density. The effect of population density and R0 was not modified by private transportation use. Differential R0 by population density can assist in more accurate predictions of the rate of spread of SARS-CoV-2 in areas that do not yet have active cases.

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