The combined effectiveness of three COVID prevention strategies on college campuses – wearing masks, social distancing, and routine testing – are just as effective in preventing coronavirus infections as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA ), according to a new study written by a Case Western Reserve University researcher.
The research, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, has immediate significance as college semesters are about to start over – and as the distribution of approved vaccines falls short of targets.
The study found that a combination of just two general measures – standoff and mandatory masks – prevents 87% of COVID-19 infections on campus and costs just $ 170 per infection prevented.
Adding routine lab tests to the mix would prevent 92% to 96% of COVID infections. Still, the cost per infection prevented rises significantly, to $ 2,000 to $ 17,000 each, depending on the frequency of testing.
As the contamination rate continues to rise during the winter, the findings are especially meaningful for higher education institutions seeking to strike a balance between in-person and remote instruction while controlling costs to promote security and reduce transmissions.
"While some measures are very effective, their implementation depends entirely on the financial situation of each college, which may already have come under pressure because of the pandemic," said Pooyan Kazemian, co-senior author of the study and an assistant professor of operations at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.
"It's clear that two common non-medical strategies are very effective and inexpensive – and allow for some personalized instruction," said Kazemian. "Although routine testing of the asymptomatic tester helps detect some infections early and reduce transmissions, they are also the greatest financial and operational burden, even if performed every 14 days."
Among the other findings of the study:
- About three in four students – and nearly one in six faculties – would become infected over the course of the semester without mitigation efforts.
- Minimal social distance policy would reduce infections in college students by only 16%.
- While closing campus and switching to online-only education would reduce student infections by 63%, it would be less effective than opening campus and adopting a mask-wearing and social distancing policy, making it would reduce the number of infections among students by 87%.
Researchers examined 24 combinations of four common preventive strategies – social distancing, wearing masks, testing and isolation – and calculated their effectiveness and costs per infection prevented.
The team took into account interactions between three groups: students, teachers and the surrounding community (including staff), and used a computer simulation model developed by Kazemian and his colleagues – known as Clinical and Economic Analysis or COVID-19 interventions. or CEACOV – that simulated a semester at a medium-sized university (5,000 students and 1,000 teachers).
"Although states have begun to offer COVID-19 vaccine to health professionals, first responders and long-term care facilities, it is unlikely that most students and university teachers and staff will receive a vaccine until late in the spring semester," Kazemian said. . "Therefore, the commitment to mask wearing and extensive social distancing, including canceling large gatherings and shrinking classes with a hybrid education system, remains the main strategy to minimize infections and keep campus open during spring semester."
The study was conducted with employees from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
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