Population agglomeration is a harbinger of the spatial complexity of COVID-19

Xiaolong Geng, Firas Gerges, Gabriel G. Katul, Elie Bou-Zeid, Hani Nassif, Michel C. Boufadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The spatial template over which COVID-19 infections operate is a result of nested societal decisions involving complex political and epidemiological processes at a broad range of spatial scales. It is characterized by ‘hotspots’ of high infections interspersed within regions where infections are sporadic to absent. In this work, the sparseness of COVID-19 infections and their time variations were analyzed across the US at scales ranging from 10 km (county scale) to 2600 km (continental scale). It was found that COVID-19 cases are multi-scaling with a multifractality kernel that monotonically approached that of the underlying population. The spatial correlation of infections between counties increased rapidly in March 2020; that rise continued but at a slower pace subsequently, trending towards the spatial correlation of the population agglomeration. This shows that the disease had already spread across the USA in early March such that travel restriction thereafter (starting on March 15th 2020) had minor impact on the subsequent spatial propagation of COVID-19. The ramifications of targeted interventions on spatial patterns of new infections were explored using the epidemiological susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) model mapped onto the population agglomeration template. These revealed that re-opening rural areas would have a smaller impact on the spread and evolution of the disease than re-opening urban (dense) centers which would disturb the system for months. This study provided a novel way for interpreting the spatial spread of COVID-19, along with a practical approach (multifractals/SIR/spectral slope) that could be employed to capture the variability and intermittency at all scales while maintaining the spatial structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127702
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
StatePublished - Sep 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


  • COVID-19
  • Multifractality
  • Population agglomeration
  • Scaling
  • Spectral analysis
  • Susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) model


Dive into the research topics of 'Population agglomeration is a harbinger of the spatial complexity of COVID-19'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this