OBJECTIVES: The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, has the potential to spread exponentially . Therefore, as long as a substantial proportion of the population remains susceptible to infection, the potential for new epidemic waves persists even in settings with low numbers of active COVID-19 infections, unless sufficient countermeasures are in place . We aim to quantify vulnerability to resurgences in COVID-19 transmission under variations in the levels of testing, tracing and mask usage .
SETTING: The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), a setting with prolonged low transmission, high mobility, non-universal mask usage and a well-functioning test-and-trace system .
PARTICIPANTS: None (simulation study).
RESULTS: We find that the relative impact of masks is greatest when testing and tracing rates are lower and vice versa . Scenarios with very high testing rates (90% of people with symptoms, plus 90% of people with a known history of contact with a confirmed case) were estimated to lead to a robustly controlled epidemic . However, across comparable levels of mask uptake and contact tracing, the number of infections over this period was projected to be 2-3 times higher if the testing rate was 80% instead of 90% , 8-12 times higher if the testing rate was 65% or 30-50 times higher with a 50% testing rate . In reality, NSW diagnosed 254 locally acquired cases over this period, an outcome that had a moderate probability in the model (10% -18 %) assuming low mask uptake (0% -25 %), even in the presence of extremely high testing (90 %) and near-perfect community contact tracing (75% -100 %), and a considerably higher probability if testing or tracing were at lower levels .
CONCLUSIONS: Our work suggests that testing, tracing and masks can all be effective means of controlling transmission . A multifaceted strategy that combines all three, alongside continued hygiene and distancing protocols, is likely to be the most robust means of controlling transmission of SARS-CoV-2.