The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of non-pharmacological interventions (NPIs) for controlling epidemics of emerging infectious diseases. Despite their importance, NPIs have been monitored mainly through the manual efforts of volunteers. This approach hinders measurement of the NPI effectiveness and development of evidence to guide their use to control the global pandemic. We present EpiTopics, a machine learning approach to support automation of NPI prediction and monitoring at both the document level and country level by mining the vast amount of unlabeled news reports on COVID-19. EpiTopics uses a 3-stage, transfer-learning algorithm to classify documents according to NPI categories, relying on topic modeling to support result interpretation. We identified 25 interpretable topics under 4 distinct and coherent COVID-related themes. Importantly, the use of these topics resulted in significant improvements over alternative automated methods in predicting the NPIs in labeled documents and in predicting country-level NPIs for 42 countries.
Available online 1 February 2022, 100435