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Infectious Diseases

Updated 16 September 2020

The latest science confirms - strict physical distancing lowers the chance of contracting Covid-19

Researchers found that people have a significantly higher chance of contracting Covid-19 if they don’t practice physical distancing.

  • A study found that the risk of infection with Covid-19 increased with certain behaviours
  • This included frequently leaving the house or using public transport 
  • The study reiterated the importance of safety measures such as wearing masks and hand hygiene

A new study by a team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggested that using public transport, visiting a place of worship or otherwise travelling from the house was associated with a higher chance of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Their study was published on 2 September 2020 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and surveyed a random sample of more than 1 000 participants in Maryland in late June.

What the research entailed

The participants were all asked about their physical distancing practices, whether they use public transportation, their SARS-CoV-2 infection history and anything else that might contribute to Covid-19 risk.

Perhaps the most important finding of the survey, was that those who frequently used public transport were more than four times more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, while those who practised strict outdoor physical distancing where only a tenth as likely to test positive.

Looking at all the variables, the researchers concluded that spending more time in public places was more strongly associated with a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Infection history was also 16 times more common in those who visited a place of worship three or more times in the prior two weeks.

Of course, there are many other variables that would make one more susceptible to Covid-19, but the researchers stated that the risks largely varied due to differences in movement and physical distancing.

First large-scale evaluation of Covid-19-related behaviour

According to the release, the study is among the first large-scale evaluations of Covid-19-relevant behaviours based on individual-level survey data as opposed to data aggregated from apps.

"Our findings support the idea that if you're going out, you should practise physical distancing to the extent possible because it does seem strongly associated with a lower chance of getting infected," said study senior author Sunil Solomon, MBBS, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School Medicine. "Studies like this are also relatively easy to do, so we think they have the potential to be useful tools for identification of places or population subgroups with higher vulnerability."

The researchers also stated that studies similar to this one could be used to predict local trends in outbreaks. 

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