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- Adriana Lucia-Sanz
- Andreea Magalie
- Rogelio Rodriguez-Gonzalez
- Chung-Yin Leung
- Joshua S. Weitz
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the United States have experienced severe COVID-19 outbreaks and elevated mortality rates, often following upon the inadvertent introduction of SARS-CoV-2. Following FDA emergency use approval, widespread distribution of vaccines has resulted in rapid reduction in COVID-19 cases in vulnerable, older populations. Yet, vaccination coverage remains incomplete amongst residents and healthcare workers. As such, mitigation and prevention strategies are needed to reduce the ongoing risk of transmission and mortality amongst vulnerable, nursing home populations. One such strategy is that of ‘shield immunity’, in which recovered individuals increase their contact rates and therefore shield individuals who remain susceptible to infection. Here, we adapt recent population-scale shield immunity models to a network context. To do so, we evaluate network-based shield immunity by evaluating how restructured interactions in a bipartite network (e.g., between healthcare workers and long-term care residents) affects SARS-CoV-2 epidemic dynamics. First, we identify a series of rewiring principles that leverage viral testing, antibody testing, and vaccination information to reassign immunized healthcare workers to care for infected residents while retaining workload balance amidst an outbreak. We find a significant reduction in outbreak size when using infection and immune-based cohorting as a weekly intervention. Second, we also identify a preventative strategy using shield-immunity rewiring principles, by assigning susceptible healthcare workers to care for cohorts of immunized residents; this strategy reduces the risk that an inadvertent introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the facility via a healthcare worker spreads to susceptible residents. Network-based epidemic modeling reveals that preventative rewiring can control the size of outbreaks at levels similar to that of isolation of infectious healthcare workers. Overall, this assessment of shield immunity provides further support for leveraging infection and immune status in network-based interventions to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19.