Risk quantification for SARS-CoV-2 infection through airborne transmission in university settings


Ambatipudi M, Carrillo Gonzalez P, Tasnim K, Daigle JT, Kulyk T, Jeffreys N, Sule N, Trevino R, He EM, Mooney DJ, et al. Risk quantification for SARS-CoV-2 infection through airborne transmission in university settings. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2021;18 (12) :590-603.

Date Published:

2021 12


The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted learning as many institutions switched to remote or hybrid instruction. An in-depth assessment of the risk of infection that considers environmental setting and mitigation strategies is needed to make safe and informed decisions regarding reopening university spaces. A quantitative model of infection probability that accounts for space-specific parameters is presented to enable assessment of the risk in reopening university spaces at given densities. The model uses the fraction of the campus population that are viral shedders, room capacity, face covering filtration efficiency, air exchange rate, room volume, and time spent in the space as parameters to calculate infection probabilities in teaching spaces, dining halls, dorms, and shared bathrooms. The model readily calculates infection probabilities in various university spaces, with face covering filtration efficiency and air exchange rate being among the dominant variables. When applied to university spaces, this model demonstrated that, under specific conditions that are feasible to implement, in-person classes could be held in large lecture halls with an infection risk over the semester <1%. Meal pick-ups from dining halls and usage of shared bathrooms in residential dormitories among small groups of students could also be accomplished with low risk. The results of applying this model to spaces at Harvard University (Cambridge and Allston campuses) and Stanford University are reported. Finally, a user-friendly web application was developed using this model to calculate infection probability following input of space-specific variables. The successful development of a quantitative model and its implementation through a web application may facilitate accurate assessments of infection risk in university spaces. However, since this model is thus far unvalidated, validation using infection rate and contact tracing data from university campuses will be crucial as such data becomes available at larger scales. In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on universities, this tool could provide crucial insight to students, faculty, and university officials in making informed decisions.
Last updated on 05/04/2022