Rapid review of social contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic
Epidemiology, 32:6, 781–791 (2021)
Background: Physical distancing measures aim to reduce person-to-person contact, a key driver of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission. In response to unprecedented restrictions on human contact during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, studies measured social contact patterns under the implementation of physical distancing measures. This rapid review synthesizes empirical data on the changing social contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Method: We conducted a systematic review using PubMed, Medline, Embase, and Google Scholar following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. We descriptively compared the distribution of contacts observed during the pandemic to pre-COVID data across countries to explore changes in contact patterns during physical distancing measures.
Results: We identified 12 studies reporting social contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight studies were conducted in European countries and eleven collected data during the initial mitigation period in the spring of 2020 marked by government-declared lockdowns. Some studies collected additional data after relaxation of initial mitigation. Most study settings reported a mean of between 2 and 5 contacts per person per day, a substantial reduction compared to pre-COVID rates, which ranged from 7 to 26 contacts per day. This reduction was pronounced for contacts outside of the home. Consequently, levels of assortative mixing by age substantially declined. After relaxation of initial mitigation, mean contact rates increased but did not return to pre-COVID levels. Increases in contacts post-relaxation were driven by working-age adults.
Conclusion: Information on changes in contact patterns during physical distancing measures can guide more realistic representations of contact patterns in mathematical models for SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Keywords: Belgium, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Netherlands, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA, data comparability, epidemiology, infectious diseases