Characterization of community-wide transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in congregate living settings and local public health-coordinated response during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic

Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2021 Jul;15(4):439-445. doi: 10.1111/irv.12819. Epub 2020 Oct 15.


Background: Clusters of COVID-19 cases amplify the pandemic and are critical targets for intervention, but comprehensive cluster-level data are not collected systematically by federal or most state public health entities. This analysis characterizes COVID-19 clusters among vulnerable populations housed in congregate living settings across an entire community and describes early mitigation efforts.

Methods: The Cuyahoga County Board of Health identified and interviewed COVID-19 cases and exposed contacts, assessing possible connections to congregate living facilities within its jurisdiction from March 7, 2020, to May 15, 2020, during the first phase of the pandemic, while state of Ohio stay-at-home orders were in effect. A multi-disciplinary team-based response network was mobilized to support active case finding and develop facility-focused containment strategies.

Results: We identified a cascade of 45 COVID-19 clusters across community facilities (corrections, nursing, assisted living, intermediate care, extended treatment, shelters, group homes). Attack rates were highest within small facilities (P < .01) and large facilities requiring extensive support to implement effective containment measures. For 25 clusters, we identified an index case who frequently (88%) was a healthcare worker. Engagement of clinical, community, and government partners through public health coordination efforts created opportunities to rapidly develop and coordinate effective response strategies to support the facilities facing the dawning impact of the pandemic.

Conclusions: Active cluster investigations can uncover the dynamics of community transmission affecting both residents of congregate settings and their caregivers and help to target efforts toward populations with ongoing challenges in access to detection and control resources.

Keywords: COVID-19; Ohio; community transmission; congregate living; health personnel; local health department; pandemic; public health; residential facilities; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / epidemiology
  • Community-Acquired Infections / prevention & control
  • Community-Acquired Infections / transmission
  • Contact Tracing
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Ohio / epidemiology
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Residential Facilities / statistics & numerical data*
  • SARS-CoV-2