Predicting the number of new suspected or confirmed cases of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is crucial in the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak. Social media search indexes (SMSI) for dry cough, fever, chest distress, coronavirus, and pneumonia were collected from 31 December 2019 to 9 February 2020. The new suspected cases of COVID-19 data were collected from 20 January 2020 to 9 February 2020. We used the lagged series of SMSI to predict new suspected COVID-19 case numbers during this period. To avoid overfitting, five methods, namely subset selection, forward selection, lasso regression, ridge regression, and elastic net, were used to estimate coefficients. We selected the optimal method to predict new suspected COVID-19 case numbers from 20 January 2020 to 9 February 2020. We further validated the optimal method for new confirmed cases of COVID-19 from 31 December 2019 to 17 February 2020. The new suspected COVID-19 case numbers correlated significantly with the lagged series of SMSI. SMSI could be detected 6-9 days earlier than new suspected cases of COVID-19. The optimal method was the subset selection method, which had the lowest estimation error and a moderate number of predictors. The subset selection method also significantly correlated with the new confirmed COVID-19 cases after validation. SMSI findings on lag day 10 were significantly correlated with new confirmed COVID-19 cases. SMSI could be a significant predictor of the number of COVID-19 infections. SMSI could be an effective early predictor, which would enable governments’ health departments to locate potential and high-risk outbreak areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2365
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • New case
  • Outbreak
  • Predictor
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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