Social distancing alters the clinical course of COVID-19 in young adults: A comparative cohort study

Michel Bielecki, Roland Züst, Denise Siegrist, Daniele Meyerhofer, Giovanni Andrea Gerardo Crameri, Zeno Giovanni Stanga, Andreas Stettbacher, Thomas Werner Buehrer, Jeremy Werner Deuel
Clinical Infectious Diseases 2020 June 29

BACKGROUND: Social distancing and stringent hygiene seem 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 two 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 nose 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 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 key factors determining the clinical course of COVID-19.

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