Individual quarantine versus active monitoring of contacts for the mitigation of COVID-19: a modelling study

Lancet Infect Dis. 2020 Sep;20(9):1025-1033. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30361-3. Epub 2020 May 20.


Background: Voluntary individual quarantine and voluntary active monitoring of contacts are core disease control strategies for emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Given the impact of quarantine on resources and individual liberty, it is vital to assess under what conditions individual quarantine can more effectively control COVID-19 than active monitoring. As an epidemic grows, it is also important to consider when these interventions are no longer feasible and broader mitigation measures must be implemented.

Methods: To estimate the comparative efficacy of individual quarantine and active monitoring of contacts to control severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), we fit a stochastic branching model to reported parameters for the dynamics of the disease. Specifically, we fit a model to the incubation period distribution (mean 5·2 days) and to two estimates of the serial interval distribution: a shorter one with a mean serial interval of 4·8 days and a longer one with a mean of 7·5 days. To assess variable resource settings, we considered two feasibility settings: a high-feasibility setting with 90% of contacts traced, a half-day average delay in tracing and symptom recognition, and 90% effective isolation; and a low-feasibility setting with 50% of contacts traced, a 2-day average delay, and 50% effective isolation.

Findings: Model fitting by sequential Monte Carlo resulted in a mean time of infectiousness onset before symptom onset of 0·77 days (95% CI -1·98 to 0·29) for the shorter serial interval, and for the longer serial interval it resulted in a mean time of infectiousness onset after symptom onset of 0·51 days (95% CI -0·77 to 1·50). Individual quarantine in high-feasibility settings, where at least 75% of infected contacts are individually quarantined, contains an outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 with a short serial interval (4·8 days) 84% of the time. However, in settings where the outbreak continues to grow (eg, low-feasibility settings), so too will the burden of the number of contacts traced for active monitoring or quarantine, particularly uninfected contacts (who never develop symptoms). When resources are prioritised for scalable interventions such as physical distancing, we show active monitoring or individual quarantine of high-risk contacts can contribute synergistically to mitigation efforts. Even under the shorter serial interval, if physical distancing reduces the reproductive number to 1·25, active monitoring of 50% of contacts can result in overall outbreak control (ie, effective reproductive number <1).

Interpretation: Our model highlights the urgent need for more data on the serial interval and the extent of presymptomatic transmission to make data-driven policy decisions regarding the cost-benefit comparisons of individual quarantine versus active monitoring of contacts. To the extent that these interventions can be implemented, they can help mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Funding: National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Quarantine*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Voluntary Programs