Using test positivity and reported case rates to estimate state-level COVID-19 prevalence and seroprevalence in the United States. Academic Article uri icon


  • Accurate estimates of infection prevalence and seroprevalence are essential for evaluating and informing public health responses and vaccination coverage needed to address the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in each United States (U.S.) state. However, reliable, timely data based on representative population sampling are unavailable, and reported case and test positivity rates are highly biased. A simple data-driven Bayesian semi-empirical modeling framework was developed and used to evaluate state-level prevalence and seroprevalence of COVID-19 using daily reported cases and test positivity ratios. The model was calibrated to and validated using published state-wide seroprevalence data, and further compared against two independent data-driven mathematical models. The prevalence of undiagnosed COVID-19 infections is found to be well-approximated by a geometrically weighted average of the positivity rate and the reported case rate. Our model accurately fits state-level seroprevalence data from across the U.S. Prevalence estimates of our semi-empirical model compare favorably to those from two data-driven epidemiological models. As of December 31, 2020, we estimate nation-wide a prevalence of 1.4% [Credible Interval (CrI): 1.0%-1.9%] and a seroprevalence of 13.2% [CrI: 12.3%-14.2%], with state-level prevalence ranging from 0.2% [CrI: 0.1%-0.3%] in Hawaii to 2.8% [CrI: 1.8%-4.1%] in Tennessee, and seroprevalence from 1.5% [CrI: 1.2%-2.0%] in Vermont to 23% [CrI: 20%-28%] in New York. Cumulatively, reported cases correspond to only one third of actual infections. The use of this simple and easy-to-communicate approach to estimating COVID-19 prevalence and seroprevalence will improve the ability to make public health decisions that effectively respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

published proceedings

  • PLoS Comput Biol

altmetric score

  • 38.45

author list (cited authors)

  • Chiu, W. A., & Ndeffo-Mbah, M. L.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

  • Chiu, Weihsueh A||Ndeffo-Mbah, Martial L

editor list (cited editors)

  • Althouse, B. M.

publication date

  • September 2021