Optimal inference of the start of COVID-19

Zheng Meng Zhai, Yong Shang Long, Ming Tang, Zonghua Liu, Ying Cheng Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


According to the official report, the first case of COVID-19 and the first death in the United States occurred on January 20 and February 29, 2020, respectively. On April 21, California reported that the first death in the state occurred on February 6, implying that community spreading of COVID-19 might have started earlier than previously thought. Exactly what is time zero, i.e., when did COVID-19 emerge and begin to spread in the U.S. and other countries? We develop a comprehensive predictive modeling framework to address this question. Using available data of confirmed infections to obtain the optimal values of the key parameters, we validate the model and demonstrate its predictive power. We then carry out an inverse inference analysis to determine time zero for 10 representative states in the U.S., plus New York City, United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain. The main finding is that, in both the U.S. and Europe, COVID-19 started around the new year day.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number013155
JournalPhysical Review Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 17 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


Dive into the research topics of 'Optimal inference of the start of COVID-19'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this