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Closing ‘anchor businesses’ early in the pandemic helped slow COVID-19 transmission: study

distribution center
Photo: halbergman/iStockphoto

Chicago — The spread of COVID-19 slowed in small to medium-sized communities in which large local manufacturing plants and distribution centers closed during the early months of the pandemic, results of a recent study led by researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine suggest.

The researchers looked at 153 of these “anchor businesses,” each of which had more than 1,000 workers, in communities with between 10,000 and 500,000 residents. The communities were located in 110 counties across a 15-state region in the southern United States.

Using public data, the researchers identified 45 counties in which an anchor business closed between March and May 2020. After 40 days, the estimated positive test rate in the counties with an anchor business closure was 1 per 100,000 people, compared with 17 per 100,000 in the counties without the closure of an anchor business. That translates to about 142 fewer positive tests per 100,000 residents in the communities with an anchor business closure over that time frame.

The impact was similar for short-term closures, and even partial closures, the researchers note in a press release. Additionally, the impact of closures on confirmed COVID-19 case rates was similar to that of other measures, such as masking and physical distancing.


“Temporary closure of anchor businesses is a strategy that governors, county officials and business leaders could consider to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Megan McHugh, study co-author and associate professor at NU, said in the release. “Closure of anchor businesses must be adopted in combination with other strategies that have been shown to slow the spread of the virus, as closure will slow, but not completely contain, the spread of COVID-19.”

The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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