Restaurants, hotels, gyms have highest risk of spreading COVID-19: Study
A new study has indicated that restaurants, gyms, and hotels have the highest risk of spreading COVID-19. The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University and Northwestern University and used mobile phone data from 98 million people between March and May to map the risks of infection at different locations. The study assumes significance as India has reopened from the COVID-19 lockdown.
The study, published in the Nature journal on Tuesday, looked at where people went, how long they stayed there, how many other people were present there, and what neighborhoods these people were visiting from. This information was then analyzed against the number of cases and how the virus spreads to create infection models, that suggest how effective lockdown measures can be in public places.
The study found that about 10% of the locations examined accounted for 85% of predicted infections. It showed that infections modeled from hotels in Miami peaked as reports of wild spring-break beach parties had emerged. Those predictions decreased significantly as lockdown measures were imposed.
Meanwhile, Eric Topol, of the Scripps Research Translational Institute (not involved in the study), told Bloomberg that such granular data "shows us where there is vulnerability." The models in the study also suggested that full-blown lockdowns are not necessary to control the pandemic. Masks, social distancing, and reduced capacity play a significant role in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
For instance, capping occupancy at 20% at locations in the Chicago metro can lead to an over 80% reduction in predicted new infections. Notably, since the 20% limit mainly affects the number of visitors during peak hours, restaurants would only lose 42% of patrons overall.
Jure Leskovec, a Stanford University computer scientist and lead author on the paper, told Bloomberg, "We need to be thinking about strategies for reopening the economy." "This allows us to test different reopening scenarios and assess what that would mean for the spread of the virus," Leskovec added. A third of the population might be infected without virus mitigation measures, he said.
Lower-income populations are apparently more likely to be infected, as they are more likely to visit smaller, more crowded spaces, and are also less likely to reduce their mobility overall, the study noted. JPMorgan Chase & Co. also said on Monday that the level of in-person spending in restaurants was the strongest predictor of where new cases would emerge.