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COVID-19 ISO Insights

Study: Pandemic Age-Based Contact Patterns Potentially Key to Surge Mitigation

April 12, 2021

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

Key Takeaway: The cited source suggests working-age adults have typically been the source of significant surges in COVID-19 viral transmissions, not school-age children. However, school reopenings may indirectly increase viral transmissions by about 26 percent, and about a 5 percent increase in deaths.

Science has reported on a study that leveraged contact patterns learned from combined data from Europe and China Asia, to analyze U.S. data to identify, in part, which age demographics were mostly driving surges of COVID-19 virus transmissions in 2020.

According to the article, researchers analyzed mobile phone data for 10 million users and COVID-19 related mortality data by location.

The study explains the mobility data as follows:

[researchers] compiled a national-level, aggregate mobility data set using cell phone data from >10 million individuals with Foursquare’s location technology, Pilgrim, which leverages a wide variety of mobile device signals to pinpoint the time, duration, and location of user visits to locations such as shops, parks, or universities […] The contact-and-infection model was fitted to the Foursquare mobility trends and to age-specific, COVID-19–attributed mortality time-series data, which we recorded daily from publicly available sources in 42 US states, the District of Columbia, and New York City since 15 March 2020

Researchers reportedly observed that in the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020—before non-pharmaceutical interventions such as closures, masks and social distancing were implemented—the spread of COVID-19 occurred within the following groups:

  1. school age groups
  2. children and their parents
  3. middle-aged adult and senior citizens

After non-pharmaceutical interventions were implemented and school reopenings in August 2020, the high sustained transmission rates of COVID-19 deaths shifted to being highly concentrated within the age group that includes adults 20-49 years of age likely due to their mobility while going to work. This age group was reportedly associated with about 72 percent of infections in the observed locations after school reopenings.

Per their analysis as of October 2020, the article explains that the COVID-19 viral transmission rates for children 0 to 9 years old was under 5 percent, and from 10 to 19 years old, under 10 percent.

The study reportedly highlights how school reopenings were less likely to be the major source for surges in transmission; however, the study did not ignore the potential for children to pass the virus to adults who then, being more mobile in the population, could fuel significant viral transmission, and, as such, researchers estimate that such school reopenings may account for about a 26 percent increase in transmission rates in their locality, with about a 5 percent increase in COVID-19 related deaths.

The researchers reportedly hope that demographic analysis can help better inform decisions about whether to close schools and workplaces, and where to provide vaccinations to quickly end surges of transmission.

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