Social contact and physical distancing behaviours during COVID-19 – University of Bristol

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It is known that coronavirus spreads between close contacts. Researchers at the University of Bristol are investigating social contact patterns and physical distancing behaviours to help understand how the virus spreads.

Understanding these contact patterns, and how people physically distance from each other in different settings and among different groups, will help policy makers design effective control strategies for preventing transmission.

The CON-QUEST (COroNavirus QUESTionnaire) study, funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and supported by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, will initially focus on contacts between University staff and students to understand how coronavirus spreads in a university setting.

The researchers will collect information through an anonymous online survey, which will ask questions about participants’ contact with other people, COVID-19 symptoms and health-seeking behaviour. The survey is open to University of Bristol staff and students aged 18 and over.

The survey will be distributed under the current physical distancing measures and repeated regularly to collect close to real-time data along with changes in those measures. This will give a picture of how contact patterns and physical distancing behaviours change over time and with different measures in place.

Emily Nixon, Research Associate in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, who is leading the study, said: “We are interested in quantifying contact patterns between individuals in the academic community because they may have quite different social interactions to the general population. The contact behaviour of students may be particularly unique, due to their living and social arrangements. Understanding these contacts will be important in developing strategies to prevent transmission of coronavirus in universities, not just here in Bristol but nationwide.

“We hope to roll out the CON-QUEST survey to other universities who may be interested and to adapt it for staff and residents in care homes.”

The study is one of a number being conducted by UNCOVER, Bristol’s COVID Emergency Research Group. Other surveys are focusing on under-represented groups, including children and older adults.

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