Intimate physical contact between people from different households during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed-methods study from a large, quasi representative survey (Natsal-COVID)

Sonnenberg, P. et al. (2022) Intimate physical contact between people from different households during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed-methods study from a large, quasi representative survey (Natsal-COVID). BMJ Open, 12(2), e055284. (doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-055284) (PMID:35140158) (PMCID:PMC8829844)

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Abstract

Objectives: Physical distancing as a non-pharmaceutical intervention aims to reduce interactions between people to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Intimate physical contact outside the household (IPCOH) may expand transmission networks by connecting households. We aimed to explore whether intimacy needs impacted adherence to physical distancing following lockdown in Britain in March 2020. Methods: The Natsal-COVID web-panel survey (July–August 2020) used quota-sampling and weighting to achieve a quasi-representative population sample. We estimate reporting of IPCOH with a romantic/sexual partner in the 4 weeks prior to interview, describe the type of contact, identify demographic and behavioural factors associated with IPCOH and present age-adjusted ORs (aORs). Qualitative interviews (n=18) were conducted to understand the context, reasons and decision making around IPCOH. Results: Of 6654 participants aged 18–59 years, 9.9% (95% CI 9.1% to 10.6%) reported IPCOH. IPCOH was highest in those aged 18–24 (17.7%), identifying as gay or lesbian (19.5%), and in steady non-cohabiting relationships (56.3%). IPCOH was associated with reporting risk behaviours (eg, condomless sex, higher alcohol consumption). IPCOH was less likely among those reporting bad/very bad health (aOR 0.54; 95% CI 0.32 to 0.93) but more likely among those with COVID-19 symptoms and/or diagnosis (aOR 1.34; 95% CI 1.10 to 1.65). Two-thirds (64.4%) of IPCOH was reported as being within a support bubble. Qualitative interviews found that people reporting IPCOH deliberated over, and made efforts to mitigate, the risks. Conclusions: Given 90% of people did not report IPCOH, this contact may not be a large additional contributor to SARS-CoV-2 transmission, although heterogeneity exists within the population. Public health messages need to recognise how single people and partners living apart balance sexual intimacy and relationship needs with adherence to control measures.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Natsal is a collaboration between University College London (UCL), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the University of Glasgow, Örebro University Hospital, and NatCen Social Research. The Natsal Resource, which is supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust (212931/Z/18/Z), with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), supports the Natsal-COVID study in addition to funding from the UCL COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund and the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (Core funding, MC_UU_00022/3; SPHSU18). Associated Unit Programme(s): Relationships & Health (MC_UU_00022/3; SPHSU18).
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Bosó Pérez, Raquel and Maxwell, Dr Karen and Riddell, Miss Julie
Authors: Sonnenberg, P., Menzes, D., Freeman, L., Maxwell, K. J., Reid, D., Clifton, S., Tanton, C., Copas, A. J., Riddell, J., Dema, E., Bosó Pérez, R., Gibbs, J., Ridge, M.-C., Macdowall, W., Unemo, M., Bonell, C., Johnson, A. M., Mercer, C. H., Mitchell, K. R., and Field, N.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > General Practice and Primary Care
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:BMJ Open
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN:2044-6055
Published Online:09 February 2022
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in BMJ Open 12(2):e055284
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
3048231Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/3HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048231Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_00022/3HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit
3048231Relationships and healthKirstin MitchellChief Scientist Office (CSO)SPHSU18HW - MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit