Epidemiol Health.  2021;43(1):e2021068. 10.4178/epih.e2021068.

Reconstructing a COVID-19 outbreak within a religious group using social network analysis simulation in Korea

  • 1Department of Economics, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea
  • 2Institute of Research in Finance and Economics, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea
  • 3Institute of Health and Environment, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea


We reconstructed a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak to examine how a large cluster at a church setting spread before being detected and estimate the potential effectiveness of complying with mask-wearing guidelines recommended by the government.
A mathematical model with a social network analysis (SNA) approach was used to simulate a COVID-19 outbreak. A discrete-time stochastic simulation model was used to simulate the spread of COVID-19 within the Sarang Jeil church. A counterfactual experiment using a calibrated baseline model was conducted to examine the potential benefits of complying with a mask-wearing policy.
Simulations estimated a mask-wearing ratio of 67% at the time of the outbreak, which yielded 953.8 (95% confidence interval [CI], 937.3 to 970.4) cases and was most consistent with the confirmed data. The counterfactual experiment with 95% mask-wearing estimated an average of 45.6 (95% CI, 43.4 to 47.9) cases with a standard deviation of 20.1. The result indicated that if the church followed government mask-wearing guidelines properly, the outbreak might have been one-twentieth the size.
SNA is an effective tool for monitoring and controlling outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Although our results are based on simulations and are thus limited, the precautionary implications of social distancing and mask-wearing are still relevant. Since person-to-person contacts and interactions are unavoidable in social and economic life, it may be beneficial to develop precise measures and guidelines for particular organizations or places that are susceptible to cluster outbreaks.


COVID-19; Social network analysis; Physical distancing
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