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Super-Spreader Businesses and Risk of COVID-19 Transmission

By Ashley L O'Donoghue, Tenzin Dechen, Whitney Pavlova, Michael Boals, Garba Moussa, Manvi Madan, Aalok Thakkar, Frank J DeFalco, Jennifer P Stevens

Posted 25 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.24.20112110

Importance: The United States has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, with over 150,000 COVID-19-related deaths as of July 31, 20201. The true risk of a COVID-19 resurgence as states prepare to reopen businesses is unknown. Objective: To quantify the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in business establishments by building a risk index for each business that measures transmission risk over time. Design: This retrospective case series study uses anonymized cell phone GPS data to analyze trends in traffic patterns to businesses that may be potentially high-risk from January 2020 to June 2020. Setting: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York, and California. Participants: 1,272,260 businesses within 8 states from January 2020 - June 2020. Exposure(s): We monitored business traffic before the pandemic, during the pandemic and after early phases of reopening in 8 states. Main Outcome: Our primary outcome is our business risk index. The index was built using two metrics: visitors per square foot and the average duration of visits. Visitors per square foot account for how densely visitors are packed into businesses. The average duration of visits accounts for the length of time visitors are spending in a business. Results: Potentially risky traffic behaviors at businesses decreased by 30% by April. Since the end of April, the risk index has been increasing as states reopen. On average, it has increased between 10 to 20 percentage points since April and is moving towards pre-pandemic levels of traffic. There are some notable differences in trends across states and industries. Conclusion: Our risk index provides a way for policymakers and hospital decision makers to monitor the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission from businesses based on the frequency and density of visits to businesses. Traffic is slowly moving towards pre-pandemic levels. This can serve as an important metric as states monitor and evaluate their reopening strategies.

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