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VT & Harvard Study: How Best to Stop Coronavirus Transmission


With coronavirus stay at home orders set to expire in Virginia this week, a new study by Virginia Tech and Harvard researchers identifies what they say, are the best strategies for avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19.

Quarantine may not be anyone’s favorite pastime, but the study finds that when it is coupled with ‘rapid contact tracing,’ it is the most effective defense against a second wave of coronavirus. Researchers say relying on ‘symptom monitoring,’ another modality for quantifying the virus, won’t be enough because by the time symptoms show up, it’s too late to stop the spread.

Virginia Tech math professor Lauren Childs says that is “Because there’s this disconnect between the timing of the appearance of symptoms and when individuals are actually able to transmit the disease. Simply monitoring for symptoms is insufficient to curtail transmission events.”

Childs specializes in the study of infectious diseases.   “Individual quarantine is, by definition, a stronger strategy to use. It also comes with more costs associated with it.” says Childs, “The fact that it requires access to space and to provisions, (like hotel rooms, food and care) and potentially even some sort of investment in ensuring that individuals are following that sort of quarantine.”

Individual quarantine, when the model is working at its best, means “When someone comes down with the infection, if that person’s contacts are identified quickly and placed into isolation, virus transmission can be stopped 95% of the time."

But, according to the study, published in SIAM News, when what’s known as ‘active symptom monitoring’ is the tracking method being used, there is only a 12% reduction in disease transmission.

“And so, the impact of the interventions that we’re specifically looking at here are based on contact tracing,” says Lauren Childs, and that this method becomes “more and more powerful as we increase the number of contacts that we can reach, and reach quickly.”



The authors hope their study results prompt health officials to consider the research to assist in developing frameworks for preventing transmission, as the pandemic winds down and normal activities resume.

At this point, there are not enough contract tracers available, even for this model to work optimally. Many more contract tracers will be needed to combat a resurgence of Coronavirus, according to the researchrs. The Virginia Department of health is looking for 1,300 contractors to work, from home, but so far only a fraction has been brought on board.

Click here to read the study


***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.



Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.