Evaluating the contributions of strategies to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the healthcare setting: a modelling study

BMJ Open. 2021 Mar 2;11(3):e044644. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-044644.


Introduction: Since its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant morbidity and mortality worldwide, with particularly severe outcomes in healthcare institutions and congregate settings. To mitigate spread, healthcare systems have been cohorting patients to limit contacts between uninfected patients and potentially infected patients or healthcare workers (HCWs). A major challenge in managing the pandemic is the presence of currently asymptomatic/presymptomatic individuals capable of transmitting the virus, who could introduce COVID-19 into uninfected cohorts. The optimal combination of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and other approaches to prevent these events is unclear, especially in light of ongoing limited resources.

Methods: Using stochastic simulations with a susceptible-exposed-infected-recovered dynamic model, we quantified and compared the impacts of PPE use, patient and HCWs surveillance testing and subcohorting strategies.

Results: In the base case without testing or PPE, the healthcare system was rapidly overwhelmed, and became a net contributor to the force of infection. We found that effective use of PPE by both HCWs and patients could prevent this scenario, while random testing of apparently asymptomatic/presymptomatic individuals on a weekly basis was less effective. We also found that even imperfect use of PPE could provide substantial protection by decreasing the force of infection. Importantly, we found that creating smaller patient/HCW-interaction subcohorts can provide additional resilience to outbreak development with limited resources.

Conclusion: These findings reinforce the importance of ensuring adequate PPE supplies even in the absence of testing and provide support for strict subcohorting regimens to reduce outbreak potential in healthcare institutions.

Keywords: COVID-19; health & safety; health policy; infection control; protocols & guidelines; public health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / instrumentation*
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional / prevention & control*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pandemics
  • Personal Protective Equipment