Rapid review of social contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic
originally posted on: 13 March 2021 (2021), unpublished
Background Physical distancing measures aim to reduce person-to-person contact, a key driver of transmission of respiratory infections such as SARS-CoV-2. In response to unprecedented restrictions on human contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of studies measured social contact patterns under the implementation of physical distancing measures. This rapid review aims to synthesize 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 (PRISMA) 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 that reported social contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of studies (11/12) collected data during the initial mitigation period in the spring of 2020 marked by government-declared lockdowns and the most stringent physical distancing measures. Some studies collected additional data after relaxation of initial mitigation. Most study settings reported a mean of between 2-5 contacts per person per day, a substantial reduction compared to pre-COVID rates which ranged from 7-26 contacts per day in similar settings. This reduction was particularly pronounced for contacts outside of the home. Consequently, levels of assortative mixing by age substantially declined. After relaxation of initial mitigation, mean contact rates subsequently 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