Evidence that #coronavirus superspreading is #fat-tailed

Superspreaders, infected individuals who result in an outsized number of secondary cases, are believed to underlie a significant fraction of total SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Here, we combine empirical observations of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 transmission and extreme value statistics to show that the distribution of secondary cases is consistent with being fat-tailed, implying that large superspreading events are extremal, yet probable, occurrences.

We integrate these results with interaction-based network models of disease transmission and show that superspreading, when it is fat-tailed, leads to pronounced transmission by increasing dispersion. Our findings indicate that large superspreading events should be the targets of interventions that minimize tail exposure.