Genomic surveillance reveals dynamic shifts in the connectivity of COVID-19 epidemics

Published in Cell, 2023

Recommended citation: Matteson NL, Hassler GW, Kurzban E, Schwab MA, Perkins SA, Gangavarapu K, Levy JI, Parker E, Pride D, Hakim A, De Hoff P, Cheung W, Castro-Martinez A, Rivera A, Veder A Rivera A, Wauer C, Holmes J, Wilson J, Ngo SN, Plascencia A, Lawrence ES, Smoot EW, Eisner ER, Tsai R, Chacón M, Baer NA, Seaver P, Salido RA, Aigner S, Ngo TT, Barber T, Ostrander T, Fielding-Miller R, Simmons EH, Zazueta OE, Serafin-Higuera I, Sanchez-Alvarez M, Moreno-Camacho JL, García-Gil A, Murphy Schafer AR, McDonald E, Corrigan J, Malone JD, Stous S, Shah S, Moshiri N, Weiss A, Anderson C, Aceves CM, Spencer EG, Hufbauer EC, Lee JJ, Ramesh KS, Nguyen KN, Saucedo K, Robles-Sikisaka R, Fisch KM, Gonias SL, Birmingham A, McDonald D, Karthikeyan S, Martin NK, Schooley RT, Negrete AJ, Reyna HJ, Chavez JR, Garcia ML, Cornejo-Bravo JM, Becker D, Isaksson M, Washington NL, Lee W, Garfein RS, Luna-Ruiz Esparza MA, Alcántar-Fernández J, Henson B, Jepsen K, Olivares-Flores B, Barrera-Badillo G, Lopez-Martínez I, Ramírez-González JE, Flores-León R, Kingsmore SF, Sanders A, Pradenas A, White B, Matthews G, Hale M, McLawhon RW, Reed SL, Winbush T, McHardy IH, Fielding RA, Nicholson L, Quigley MM, Harding A, Mendoza A, Bakhtar O, Browne SH, Olivas Flores J, Rincon Rodríguez DG, Gonzalez Ibarra M, Robles Ibarra LC, Arellano Vera BJ, Gonzalez Garcia J, Harvey-Vera A, Knight R, Laurent LC, Yeo GW, Wertheim JO, Ji X, Worobey M, Suchard MA, Andersen KG, Campos-Romero A, Wohl S, Zeller M (2023). "Genomic surveillance reveals dynamic shifts in the connectivity of COVID-19 epidemics." Cell. 186(26):5690–5704.e20. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2023.11.024

The maturation of genomic surveillance in the past decade has enabled tracking of the emergence and spread of epidemics at an unprecedented level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, genomic data revealed that local epidemics varied considerably in the frequency of SARS-CoV-2 lineage importation and persistence, likely due to a combination of COVID-19 restrictions and changing connectivity. Here, we show that local COVID-19 epidemics are driven by regional transmission, including across international boundaries, but can become increasingly connected to distant locations following the relaxation of public health interventions. By integrating genomic, mobility, and epidemiological data, we find abundant transmission occurring between both adjacent and distant locations, supported by dynamic mobility patterns. We find that changing connectivity significantly influences local COVID-19 incidence. Our findings demonstrate a complex meaning of ‘local’ when investigating connected epidemics and emphasize the importance of collaborative interventions for pandemic prevention and mitigation.