Quantifying population contact patterns in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nat Commun. 2021 Feb 9;12(1):893. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-20990-2.


SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted primarily through close, person-to-person interactions. Physical distancing policies can control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by reducing the amount of these interactions in a population. Here, we report results from four waves of contact surveys designed to quantify the impact of these policies during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. We surveyed 9,743 respondents between March 22 and September 26, 2020. We find that interpersonal contact has been dramatically reduced in the US, with an 82% (95%CI: 80%-83%) reduction in the average number of daily contacts observed during the first wave compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, we find increases in contact rates over the subsequent waves. We also find that certain demographic groups, including people under 45 and males, have significantly higher contact rates than the rest of the population. Tracking these changes can provide rapid assessments of the impact of physical distancing policies and help to identify at-risk populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Calibration
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires