Study: masks, distancing, tests shown to be as effective as vaccines on college campuses


The combined effectiveness of three COVID prevention strategies on college campuses – mask wear, social distancing, and routine testing – are as effective in preventing coronavirus infections as the Food and Drug-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. US Drug Administration (FDA), according to a new study co-authored by a researcher at Case Western Reserve University.

The research, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, has immediate significance as college semesters are about to restart – and the distribution of approved vaccines lags behind targets.

The study found that a combination of just two common measures – distance and mandatory masks – prevent 87% of COVID-19 infections on campus and cost just $ 170 per infection averted.

Adding routine lab tests to the mix would prevent 92% to 96% of COVID infections. Yet the cost per infection averted increases dramatically, from $ 2,000 to $ 17,000 each, depending on the frequency of testing.

As the infection rate continues to rise during the winter, the results are particularly significant for higher education institutions that aim to strike a balance between in-person and distance education, while managing costs for promote safety and reduce transmissions.

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“While some measures are very effective, their implementation depends entirely on the financial situation of each college, which may have already been strained due to the pandemic,” said Pooyan Kazemian, co-lead author Study and Assistant Professor of Operations at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.

“It is clear that two common non-medical strategies are very effective and inexpensive and allow for in-person training,” Kazemian said. “While these are true routine tests for the asymptomatic, it helps detect some infections early and reduce transmission, but they also represent the greatest financial and operational burden, even if they are performed. every 14 days. “

Among the other results of the study:

  • About three in four students – and almost one in six faculty – would be infected during the semester in the absence of all mitigation efforts.
  • Minimum social distancing policies would reduce only 16% of infections among students.
  • If closing the campus and switching to online education would reduce infections by 63% among students, it would be less effective than opening up the campus and implementing a mask-wearing and social distancing policy, which would reduce infections by 87% among students.
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The study

The researchers looked at 24 combinations of four common preventive strategies – social distancing, mask wear, screening and isolation – and calculated their effectiveness and cost per infection averted.

The team took into account the interactions between three groups: students, faculty and the surrounding community (including staff), and used a computer simulation model developed by Kazemian and his colleagues – known as clinical analysis. and economic intervention COVID-19, or CEACOV – which simulated a semester in a middle-sized college (5,000 students and 1,000 professors).

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“As states have started offering the COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers, first responders, and long-term care facilities, most students, faculty and university staff are unlikely to see each other come up with a vaccine before the end of the spring semester, ”Kazemian said. “Therefore, the commitment to mask wearing and extended social distancing, including canceling large gatherings and reducing class sizes with a hybrid education system, remains the primary strategy to minimize infections. and keep the campus open during the spring semester. ”

The study was conducted with contributors from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Study: University Campuses and COVID-19 Mitigation: Clinical and Economic Value

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