Assessment of the effectiveness of Omicron transmission mitigation strategies for European universities using an agent-based network model

Jana Lasser*, Timotheus Hell, David Garcia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND: Returning universities to full on-campus operations while the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic is ongoing has been a controversial discussion in many countries. The risk of large outbreaks in dense course settings is contrasted by the benefits of in-person teaching. Transmission risk depends on a range of parameters, such as vaccination coverage and efficacy, number of contacts, and adoption of nonpharmaceutical intervention measures. Owing to the generalized academic freedom in Europe, many universities are asked to autonomously decide on and implement intervention measures and regulate on-campus operations. In the context of rapidly changing vaccination coverage and parameters of the virus, universities often lack sufficient scientific insight on which to base these decisions. METHODS: To address this problem, we analyzed a calibrated, data-driven agent-based simulation of transmission dynamics among 13 284 students and 1482 faculty members in a medium-sized European university. Wed use a colocation network reconstructed from student enrollment data and calibrate transmission risk based on outbreak size distributions in education institutions. We focused on actionable interventions that are part of the already existing decision process of universities to provide guidance for concrete policy decisions. RESULTS: Here we show that, with the Omicron variant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, even a reduction to 25% occupancy and universal mask mandates are not enough to prevent large outbreaks, given the vaccination coverage of about 85% reported for students in Austria. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that controlling the spread of the virus with available vaccines in combination with nonpharmaceutical intervention measures is not feasible in the university setting if presence of students and faculty on campus is required.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberciac340
Pages (from-to)2097-2103
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number12
Early online dateMay 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2022


  • agent-based simulation
  • COVID-19
  • contact network
  • higher education
  • measure effectiveness
  • omicron
  • Prevention
  • modeling
  • agend-based
  • network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

Fields of Expertise

  • Information, Communication & Computing


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