UW model outlines danger of ‘visiting just one friend’ during outbreak

Apr 17, 2020, 10:40 AM | Updated: 11:17 am
Visiting one friend...
Visiting even just one friend can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. (Pexels)

Researchers at the University of Washington Network Modeling Group recently published a study on the effect visiting just one friend during the ongoing stay-at-home order could potentially have on spreading COVID-19.

Study looks at chance of social distancing continuing through 2022

The study highlights the various degrees of separation within communities, and how a single visit “that doesn’t carefully follow all the rules about social distancing” can actively contribute to the spread of the virus.

It posits a scenario where going to meet a single friend can quickly escalate.

Let’s say, then, that you decide to meet up with your friend Sue. But if Sue’s parents are letting her go out, then they probably also need to let her brother Ed go out to meet up with his friend. Note that this is still less than the average household size — not everybody is meeting up with a friend.

What happens when we lay these new connections? A lot more connectivity.

In a situation where one person visits just one friend, that contains three degrees of separation from nearly 12 other households. At six degrees of separation, that visit connects to an average of roughly 52 households.

Visiting one friend

A visualization of what happens when Sue decides to visit even just one person outside her household. (UW Modeling Group)

In houses where two people in each household visit one person, that expands the contact tree even further, affecting almost 37 households within three degrees of separation, and roughly 147 within six degrees.

“In short, we see many many more opportunities to acquire the virus from folks who are both near and far from you in the social network. And equally more opportunities for you to transmit it on to other folks both near and far, all just so people can hang out with one friend!” it reads.

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Just a single visit has the potential to affect “almost all other households in your community,” opening up dozens more avenues for infection, and branching out to every single person those households interact with in turn.

Ultimately, the goal is to highlight that even the smallest of careless physical interactions outside of your household can contribute to the growth of the outbreak.

“Every additional connection that we can postpone until COVID-19 is under control has the potential to save one or more lives. Yes, every one,” it points out. “You may never know whether it made a difference, and if it did, exactly whose life was saved. Regardless of who it is — waiting a bit to hang out with your friends again is worth it.”

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UW model outlines danger of ‘visiting just one friend’ during outbreak