The COVID-19 Expansion Model of Urbeos: the urban explanation to the problem of outbreaks in the world
Based on the recent increase in infections in most cities in the world, the COVID-19 expansion model developed by Urbeos explains how the movements of people to the main urban centers are causing outbreaks and forcing governments to establish new schemes of isolation.
When the pandemic seemed to be under control in Europe, after the strong impact it had between the months of March and April, new records of daily infections have been reported in the old continent for several weeks. Similarly, the cities of North America and Latin America are not able to definitively stop contagions and the exit from quarantines poses a strong tension between health risk and the socioeconomic deterioration of the population. This situation has forced several cities to re-implement partial or total restrictions on activities to try to control new infections.
Thus, the reopening of urban activities without sufficient planning adds to the refusal of governments to understand that the coronavirus problem far exceeds the epidemiological issue and must also be addressed from an urban point of view.
Urbeos' COVID-19 expansion model and the importance of understanding how people mobilize in cities
The Urban COVID-19 Expansion Model, developed for the Predictive Laboratory last May, explains the exponential nature of infections based on one of the main characteristics of modern cities: the high level of centrality, that is, , the presence of specific areas to which a large number of people travel daily for work reasons from the rest of the city.
This form of organization of the territory and mobility of the population from peripheral areas to urban centers is typical in most modern cities and is key when explaining why the reactivation of activities is causing increases in infections in many cities of the world.
In this sense, the explanation must be sought in an urban and not an epidemiological question: in modern cities, most people work far from their places of residence, which forces them to move to the central areas where jobs are located. This situation causes a significant daily concentration of population in highly targeted areas that do not represent more than 5/10% of all cities.
However, to the risk of contagion represented by the high concentration of people in these areas must be added the fact that the displacement of workers occurs mainly in public transport systems that are not designed to maintain the necessary social distancing in a context of pandemic. This situation becomes even more risky when trips originate in suburban areas of lower socioeconomic status, where public transport tends to get congested at peak times.
Once all these people return to their homes, the second instance of the spread of contagion in residential areas occurs, based on close contacts between family, friends, neighbors and consumption in nearby stores. In this case, socioeconomic conditions once again play a fundamental role: the lower the socioeconomic level of a residential area, the higher the speed of COVID19 contagion due to the lack of possibilities of distancing within homes or in the immediate surroundings to homes.
This second instance is the one that is currently generating the increase in infections in most cities where activities have been rehabilitated in recent months, mainly in suburban residential areas and in areas with high housing density.
Based on the foregoing, it should be understood that the design of specific health protocols for each trade or activity "indoors" helps to avoid contagion of consumers and employees but ignores the risk that occurs due to urban displacement of workers of said businesses. Due to this, it is essential to add adequate prevention and control measures at the urban level that contain contagions in central areas to the current sanitary protocols when moving forward with the rehabilitation of activities.
"Protocol Urbeos": Towards a reopening of urban activities without outbreaks
Based on all the work carried out in the Predictive Laboratory, we present the "Urbeos Protocol" with its main characteristics:
1) Rehabilitation of activities by geographical areas
- Reopening should be carried out analyzing the risk level of each urban sector. The different areas must be progressively enabled, starting with those sectors with lower risk and leaving the central areas with strong mobility of people for the last stages.
2) Evaluation of employee displacement
- The decision to rehabilitate an activity (commerce, industry, administrative activity, etc.) should evaluate the level of employee displacement that this activity generates from suburban areas to high-risk central areas. It is recommended to particularly consider the type of transport used mainly by the activity (public or private) when evaluating the risk.
3) Implementation of specific measures in Critical Areas detected
The reopening of activities in central areas (Critical Areas) must be accompanied by:
- the pedestrianization of streets and avenues that allows the circulation of people with sufficient social distancing, especially around the modal transfer areas of public transport;
- the temporary distancing of the bus and tram stops and the increase in frequency to avoid crowding of people;
- modifying the opening and closing hours of premises that allow workers to travel to their jobs and return home outside of peak hours;
4) Limit of 65% in the mobility of people to Critical Areas
- The level of mobility of people to the central areas of the city should not exceed 65% of the number of people circulating before the pandemic. Exceeded a value of 70%, it has been verified that contagions grow exponentially in suburban residential areas.
5) Social awareness about the risk of circulation in Critical Areas
- It is essential to develop social awareness campaigns to prevent people from circulating unnecessarily through the central areas of the city. For this, it is recommended to identify these sectors visibly and clearly so that the population understands that they are passing through a high-risk area.
6) Ratification of current sanitary guidelines:
- The need to keep in force all health measures related to social distancing and personal hygiene, adding the importance of avoiding mass encounters of people;
- Need to carry out specific protocols for each activity that is reopened, avoiding those activities that attract a large number of people to the same place and that take place in closed spaces;
- Facilitation of teleworking or remote work mechanisms in all those cases in which the activities allow it.
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