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Implications of Heterogeneous SIR Models for Analyses of COVID-19

Working Paper

Glenn Ellison

June 2020

This paper provides a quick survey of results on the classic SIR model and variants allowing for heterogeneity in contact rates. It notes that calibrating the classic model to data generated by a heterogeneous model can lead to forecasts that are biased in several ways and to understatement of the forecast uncertainty. Among the biases are that the researchers may underestimate how quickly herd immunity might be reached, underestimate differences across regions, and have biased estimates of the impact of endogenous and policy-driven social distancing.