Background: Social distancing and stringent hygiene seem to be effective in reducing the number of transmitted virus particles, and therefore the infectivity, of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and could alter the mode of transmission of the disease. However, it is not known if such practices can change the clinical course in infected individuals.
Methods: We prospectively studied an outbreak of COVID-19 in Switzerland among a population of 508 predominantly male soldiers with a median age of 21 years. We followed the number of infections in 2 spatially separated cohorts with almost identical baseline characteristics with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) before and after implementation of stringent social distancing.
Results: Of the 354 soldiers infected prior to the implementation of social distancing, 30% fell ill from COVID-19, while no soldier in a group of 154, in which infections appeared after implementation of social distancing, developed COVID-19 despite the detection of viral RNA in the nasal and virus-specific antibodies within this group.
Conclusions: Social distancing not only can slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in a cohort of young, healthy adults but it can also prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 while still inducing an immune response and colonizing nasal passages. Viral inoculum during infection or mode of transmission may be a key factor determining the clinical course of COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; cohort study; social distancing; viral inoculum.
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