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Monitoring transmission is a prerequisite for containing COVID-19. We report on effective potential growth (EPG) as a novel measure for the early identification of local outbreaks based on primary care electronic medical records (EMR) and PCR-confirmed cases. Secondly, we studied whether increasing EPG precedes local hospital and intensive care (ICU) admissions and mortality. Population-based cohort including all Catalan citizens' PCR tests, hospitalization, intensive care (ICU) and mortality between 1/07/2020 and 13/09/2020; linked EMR covering 88.6% of the Catalan population was obtained. Nursing home residents were excluded. COVID-19 counts were ascertained based on EMR and PCRs separately. Weekly empirical propagation (ρ7) and 14-day cumulative incidence (A14) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated at care management area (CMA) level, and combined as EPG = ρ7 × A14. Overall, 7,607,201 and 6,798,994 people in 43 CMAs were included for PCR and EMR measures, respectively. A14, ρ7, and EPG increased in numerous CMAs during summer 2020. EMR identified 2.70-fold more cases than PCRs, with similar trends, a median (interquartile range) 2 (1) days earlier, and better precision. Upticks in EPG preceded increases in local hospital admissions, ICU occupancy, and mortality. Increasing EPG identified localized outbreaks in Catalonia, and preceded local hospital and ICU admissions and subsequent mortality. EMRs provided similar estimates to PCR, but some days earlier and with better precision. EPG is a useful tool for the monitoring of community transmission and for the early identification of COVID-19 local outbreaks.

Original publication




Journal article


Front public health

Publication Date





COVID-19, outbreak detection, public health, sentinel, surveillance, COVID-19, Disease Outbreaks, Electronic Health Records, Humans, Primary Health Care, Prospective Studies, Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction, SARS-CoV-2, Spain