Researchers at Stanford Unversity and Northwestern University in their latest study have stated that reopening of restaurants, gyms and hotels carries the highest risk of further spreading COVID-19. The study used mobile phone data of 98 million people to calculate risks of coronavirus infection at various different locations such as restaurants, hotels, gyms etc.
Researchers collected the data by mapping the movement of people in several major US cities through the months of March-May. They managed to map the movement of people by collecting data points such as - where the people stayed, where they went, how many others were there and what neighbourhoods where these people visiting from. They then created infection models by combining all information they have gathered with the data they already had on the number of COVID-19 cases and how the virus spreads.
After doing all this, the study's infection model predicted that if restaurants reopened at full capacity in Chicago, Illinois then around six lakh more cases will emerge in the city. It made similar predictions for other cities using different variables. It also found that around 10% of the locations that it had studied accounted for about 85% of all predicted infections. The study was published in Nature, a well-renowned international science journal, on Tuesday.
Explaining the infection model, Eric Topol, of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, which wasn't involved in the study, told Bloomberg Quint, "This type of very granular data shows us where there is vulnerability." "Then what you need to do is concentrate on the areas that light up," he added.
Nature also published a concurrent opinion piece on the study. Marc Lipsitch and Kevin Ma, who work at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in the opinion piece that there is limited epidemiological data on how interventions can curb COVID-19 infection. They said that such models can act only as a starting point to guide policymaking decisions.
The study has suggested that complete lockdowns are no longer necessary to curb COVID-19 infections. It also said that masks, social distancing and reduced capacity at certain locations will all play a major role in keeping the coronavirus at bay.
According to the study, keeping occupancy at 20% in locations around the Chicago metro area would cut down the number of predicted infections by more than 80%. This may even prove to be economical for restaurants as occupancy restrictions primarily impact the number of visits during peak hours, meaning that restaurants are only expected to lose around 42% of all patrons
The study suggests that reducing maximum capacity at certain locations may prove to be more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than less targeted measures.