Understanding the coevolution of mask wearing and epidemics: A network perspective

Zirou Qiu, Baltazar Espinoza, Vitor V. Vasconcelos, Chen Chen, Sara M. Constantino, Stefani A. Crabtree, Luojun Yang, Anil Vullikanti, Jiangzhuo Chen, Jörgen Weibull, Kaushik Basu, Avinash Dixit, Simon A. Levin, Madhav V. Marathe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as mask wearing can be effective in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases. Therefore, understanding the behavioral dynamics of NPIs is critical for characterizing the dynamics of disease spread. Nevertheless, standard infection models tend to focus only on disease states, overlooking the dynamics of "beneficial contagions,"e.g., compliance with NPIs. In this work, we investigate the concurrent spread of disease and mask-wearing behavior over multiplex networks. Our proposed framework captures both the competing and complementary relationships between the dueling contagion processes. Further, the model accounts for various behavioral mechanisms that influence mask wearing, such as peer pressure and fear of infection. Our results reveal that under the coupled disease-behavior dynamics, the attack rate of a disease - as a function of transition probability - exhibits a critical transition. Specifically, as the transmission probability exceeds a critical threshold, the attack rate decreases abruptly due to sustained mask-wearing responses.We empirically explore the causes of the critical transition and demonstrate the robustness of the observed phenomena. Our results highlight that without proper enforcement of NPIs, reductions in the disease transmission probability via other interventions may not be sufficient to reduce the final epidemic size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2123355119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 28 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • epidemiology
  • individual behavior
  • multilayer networks
  • phase transitions
  • social and behavioral contagions


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