Diffusion as a first model of spread of viral infection

Paulo H. Acioli, Northeastern Illinois University


The appearance of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in late 2019 has dominated the news in the last few months as it developed into a pandemic. In many mathematics and physics classrooms, instructors are using the time series of the number of cases to show exponential growth of the infection. In this manuscript, we propose a simple diffusion process as the mode of spreading infections. This model is less sophisticated than other models in the literature, but it can capture the exponential growth and it can explain it in terms of mobility (diffusion constant), population density, and probability of transmission. Students can change the parameters and determine the growth rate and predict the total number of cases as a function of time. Students are also given the opportunity to add other factors that are not considered in the simple diffusion model.