COVID-19 deaths reduced by only meeting with those of same age – study

Creating microenvironments for people in the same group to meet while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks could cut mortality rates by up to 91%.

SOCIAL DISTANCING, but what to do at home? (photo credit: REUTERS)
SOCIAL DISTANCING, but what to do at home?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
COVID-19 mortality rates could be reduced if people limit their in-person meetings to those of their own age group, according to a new study from the University of Haifa's Sagol Department of Neurobiology.
According to the study, which was published in the academic journal Open Biology, patients age 55 and up have a reduced mortality rate of up to 91% if they restrict their in-person meetings with family members living in their homes and with those of their own age. 
The researchers, led by Dr. Shani Stern alongside Dr. Huda Adwan Shekhidem and research student Liron Mizrahi, drew this conclusion based on a computational model, which itself was based on virus transmission rates, morbidity periods, mortality levels and age distribution among the populations of Israel and Italy.
Using this compiled data, the model analyzed the spread of the novel coronavirus among a virtual population of 50,000 people, which in turn was divided into four age groups: 14 and under, 15-34, 35-54 and 55 and up.
Within these parameters, a few different scenarios were tested. One had all the age groups, except for 55 and up, allowed to maintain in person meetings together, all the while maintaining standard social distancing measures and wearing face masks. 
Those aged 55 and older were restricted to their own age group. This resulted in a mortality rate reduction of 62%. 
Another scenario, which was the least successful, focused on not restricting in-person meetings by age but instead increasing distancing or making sure mask-wearing was strictly enforced. This only saw a reduction of 14%. 
However, the strictest and most successful scenario had each age group exclusively meet with other individuals in their own age group and with family members in the same home. This scenario saw a 91% reduction in mortality.
These findings are especially significant, as Israel continues to lift coronavirus restrictions such as launching pilot programs to reopen malls while also mulling a potential third lockdown.
But according to Stern, the findings support a means of potentially safely avoiding a total lockdown.
"In order to avoid a total or partial shutdown, we can create microenvironments in which we allow people within the same age group to meet, for example at a supermarket or a restaurant," Stern explained in a statement. 
"This can prevent the closure of businesses while still enhancing the protection of the population, and it can do so without totally isolating the older population, who needs social interactions more than we all do.”
There is currently no date set for a third lockdown, Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Wednesday, despite rumors of a potential lockdown around Hanukkah.
Notably, he claimed that any future lockdown is dependent on a potential rise in cases, which could occur because of the reopening of the education system. As reopening schools would see students and teachers meet in person, it seems Stern's findings support the Health Ministry's worries, as avoiding these meetings could drastically cut down on infections and mortality.
Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.