Analyzing the patterns of social contact in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has forced people worldwide to quarantine. In order to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, countries and workplaces have been in various lockdown stages since the infection was detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

In mid-April 2020, 62% of employed adults were observed to be working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario continues, and there is no standardized, multi-site study of social contacts conducted in the workplace. A study of this order will help plan strategies to deal with the pandemic situation – both before and during the onset.

It is estimated that 16% of influenza transmission in the workplace occurs through social interactions and respiratory infections. The conditions at the workplace also determine the SARS-CoV-2 transmission percentage.

All significant effects of remote working on COVID-19 must be assessed. This can be achieved by assessing changes in social contact patterns. In this context, Moses C. Kiti et al. recently published a medRxiv * preprint paper examining social contact patterns. In this study, they characterized the intermingling between work environments, including on-site or teleworking.

The mean number of contacts per person per day was two contacts per respondent. The authors stratified this information by date of data collection, age, gender, race, and ethnicity. This information can be widely used in the Pandemic Readiness Policy for similar settings.

This study included two multinational consulting firms ((N1 = 275, N2 = 3000) and a university administration department ((N3 = 560)) located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA from April to June 2020. Orders were in effect Employees participated in the study by accepting an email invitation. Remote working was defined as any place of work (at home or in public spaces) outside of their intended workplace. The employees addressed were 3,835, of whom 357 (9.3%) ) replied on the first contact day and 304 completed on both contact days The results are summarized by those respondents who completed the dairy on both days.

This study was an unlikely cross-sectional survey using standardized social contact diaries that respondents were asked to enter. Respondents recorded their physical and non-physical contacts over two days, which were documented at the end of each day.

Panel (A) shows the distribution of contacts according to attributes: duration (in minutes (minutes) or hours (hours)). Types of contact were conversations with physical contact (Conv & Phys), only physical (Phys) or non-physical / only conversations (only Conv). A contact was repeated if it was observed on both days, or unique if it was observed on only one day. Panel (B) shows the age-stratified average number of contacts over two study days. The gray area on the x-axis shows that all respondents were over 19 years old, but could report contacts under the age of 19. The data shown in the graphs refer to 1,548 contacts recorded by 304 participants over 608 diary days

A median of 2 contacts per respondent was observed on the first and second day.

Most of the contacts (55%) were only conversations – took place at home (64%) and lasted more than 4 hours (38%). Most of the contacts were repeated and within the same age groups. However, participants aged 30 to 59 reported intergenerational mixing with children.

This study is comparable to similar reports from the UK and China that took effect during the pandemic housing missions. Pre-pandemic data are not available for direct comparison. While the middle contact number is 2, many of the contacts have been repeated, which can limit the spread of the infection.

Mathematical models are used to predict and simulate the effects of interventions during a pandemic. These models are very sensitive to assumptions about how people acquire infections and how they pass them on to others.

Data on social contact patterns – the frequency and type of contacts individuals make on a daily basis – drive these assumptions. The authors discuss some selection and informational biases that may be present in this study.

The authors propose similar studies to assess the changes in contact patterns and parameterize mathematical models that describe disease transmission and lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such studies help reduce the risk of transmission, examine prevention methods, and mitigate infections in the workplace.

* Important NOTE

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:

  • Social contact patterns between employees in three US companies in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic from April to June 2020. Moses Chapa Kiti, Obianuju G. Aguolu, Carol Liu, Ana Mesa Restrepo, Rachel Regina, Kathryn Willebrand, Chandra Couzens, Tilman Bartelsmeyer Kristin Nicole Bratton, Samuel M. Jenness, Steven Riley, Alessia Melegaro, Faruque Ahmed, Fauzia Malik, Ben Lopman, Saad B. Omer medRxiv 2020.10.14.20212423; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.14.20212423, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.14.20212423v1

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