If you want to lower the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, your best bet is to practice strict social distancing and avoid public transportation and places of worship, according to a new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In arriving at their conclusions, the researchers surveyed a random sample of more than 1,000 people in Maryland in late June, asking about their social-distancing practices, use of public transportation, and coronavirus-related behaviors and history.
What the researchers discovered was that those who frequently used public transportation were four times more likely to report a history of testing positive for coronavirus, while those who practiced strict outdoor social distancing were just a tenth as likely to report ever being positive.
Also, having an infection history was sixteen times higher among those who reported having visited a place of worship three or more times in the prior two weeks, compared to those who reported zero visits.
The results showed that 5.3 percent of the respondents had tested positive for coronavirus at any time, while 1.7 percent reported testing positive in the two weeks before the survey.
“Our findings support the idea that if you’re going out, you should practice social distancing to the extent possible because it does seem strongly associated with a lower chance of getting infected,” the study’s senior author Sunil Solomon, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a news release.
“Studies like this are also relatively easy to do, so we think they have the potential to be useful tools for identification of places or population subgroups with higher vulnerability.”
The study’s data also revealed a greater adoption of social-distancing practices among high-risk groups. More than 80 percent of respondents sixty-five and over reported that they always practiced social distancing when engaged in outdoor activities, while only 58 percent of those aged eighteen to twenty-four did likewise.
The results are in line with general public-health messages that tout the safety benefits of mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting travel. Without a viable vaccine to work with, officials and medical experts have relied on these simple measures to limit the further spread of the virus.
The researchers added that these kinds of “inexpensive surveys” can help pinpoint where the next hot spots will be.
“We did this study in Maryland in June, and it showed among other things that younger people in the state were less likely to reduce their infection risk with social distancing—and a month later a large proportion of the SARS-CoV-2 infections detected in Maryland were among younger people,” Solomon said.
“So, it points to the possibility of using these quick, inexpensive surveys to predict where outbreaks are going to happen based on behaviors, and then mobilizing public health resources accordingly.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn. Image: Reuters