Evaluation of Contact-Tracing Policies against the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Austria: An Agent-Based Simulation

Med Decis Making. 2021 Nov;41(8):1017-1032. doi: 10.1177/0272989X211013306. Epub 2021 May 22.


Background: Many countries have already gone through several infection waves and mostly managed to successfully stop the exponential spread of SARS-CoV-2 through bundles of restrictive measures. Still, the danger of further waves of infections is omnipresent, and it is apparent that every containment policy must be carefully evaluated and possibly replaced by a different, less restrictive policy before it can be lifted. Tracing of contacts and consequential breaking of infection chains is a promising strategy to help contain the disease, although its precise impact on the epidemic is unknown.

Objective: In this work, we aim to quantify the impact of tracing on the containment of the disease and investigate the dynamic effects involved.

Design: We developed an agent-based model that validly depicts the spread of the disease and allows for exploratory analysis of containment policies. We applied this model to quantify the impact of different approaches of contact tracing in Austria to derive general conclusions on contract tracing.

Results: The study displays that strict tracing complements other intervention strategies. For the containment of the disease, the number of secondary infections must be reduced by about 75%. Implementing the proposed tracing strategy supplements measures worth about 5%. Evaluation of the number of preventively quarantined persons shows that household quarantine is the most effective in terms of avoided cases per quarantined person.

Limitations: The results are limited by the validity of the modeling assumptions, model parameter estimates, and the quality of the parametrization data.

Conclusions: The study shows that tracing is indeed an efficient measure to keep case numbers low but comes at a high price if the disease is not well contained. Therefore, contact tracing must be executed strictly, and adherence within the population must be held up to prevent uncontrolled outbreaks of the disease.

Keywords: agent-based modeling; covid-19; epidemics model; modeling and simulation; sars-cov-2.

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • COVID-19*
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Policy
  • SARS-CoV-2