Short-term local predictions of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom using dynamic supervised machine learning algorithms

Background: Short-term prediction of COVID-19 epidemics is crucial to decision making. We aimed to develop supervised machine-learning algorithms on multiple digital metrics including symptom search trends, population mobility, and vaccination coverage to predict local-level COVID-19 growth rates in the UK. Methods: Using dynamic supervised machine-learning algorithms based on log-linear regression, we explored optimal models for 1-week, 2-week, and 3-week ahead prediction of COVID-19 growth rate at lower tier local authority level over time. Model performance was assessed by calculating mean squared error (MSE) of prospective prediction, and naïve model and fixed-predictors model were used as reference models. We assessed real-time model performance for eight five-weeks-apart checkpoints between 1st March and 14th November 2021. We developed an online application (COVIDPredLTLA) that visualised the real-time predictions for the present week, and the next one and two weeks. Results: Here we show that the median MSEs of the optimal models for 1-week, 2-week, and 3-week ahead prediction are 0.12 (IQR: 0.08-0.22), 0.29 (0.19-0.38), and 0.37 (0.25-0.47), respectively. Compared with naïve models, the optimal models maintain increased accuracy (reducing MSE by a range of 21-35%), including May-June 2021 when the delta variant spread across the UK. Compared with the fixed-predictors model, the advantage of dynamic models is observed after several iterations of update. Conclusions: With flexible data-driven predictors selection process, our dynamic modelling framework shows promises in predicting short-term changes in COVID-19 cases. The online application (COVIDPredLTLA) could assist decision-making for control measures and planning of healthcare capacity in future epidemic growths.
Disease prevention; Epidemiology.