COVID-19 in Scottish care homes : a metapopulation model of spread among residents and staff

Baister, Matthew and McTaggart, Ewan and McMenemy, Paul and Megiddo, Itamar and Kleczkowski, Adam (2024) COVID-19 in Scottish care homes : a metapopulation model of spread among residents and staff. Epidemics, 48. 100781. ISSN 1755-4365 (

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The movement of populations between locations and activities can result in complex transmission dynamics, posing significant challenges in controlling infectious diseases like COVID-19. Notably, networks of care homes create an ecosystem where staff and visitor movement acts as a vector for disease transmission, contributing to the heightened risk for their vulnerable communities. Care homes in the UK were disproportionately affected by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for almost half of COVID-19 deaths during the period of 6th March – 15th June 2020 and so there is a pressing need to explore modelling approaches suitable for such systems. We develop a generic compartmental Susceptible - Exposed - Infectious - Recovered - Dead (SEIRD) metapopulation model, with care home residents, care home workers, and the general population modelled as subpopulations, interacting on a network describing their mixing habits. We illustrate the model application by analysing the spread of COVID-19 over the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the NHS Lothian health board, Scotland. We explicitly model the outbreak’s reproduction rate and care home visitation level over time for each subpopulation and execute a data fit and sensitivity analysis, focusing on parameters responsible for inter-subpopulation mixing: staff-sharing, staff shift patterns and visitation. The results from our sensitivity analysis show that restricting staff sharing between homes and staff interaction with the general public would significantly mitigate the disease burden. Our findings indicate that protecting care home staff from disease, coupled with reductions in staff-sharing across care homes and expedient cancellations of visitations, can significantly reduce the size of outbreaks in care home settings.