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Researchers to investigate social contact and physical distancing behaviours during COVID-19 

1 July 2020 

It is known that coronavirus spreads between close contacts. Researchers at the University of Bristol are investigating social contact patterns and physical distancing behaviours to help understand how the virus spreads.  

Con-quest study logo


Understanding these contact patterns, and how people physically distance from each other in different settings and among different groups, will help policy makers design effective control strategies for preventing transmission. 

The CON-QUEST (COroNavirus QUESTionnaire) study, funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and supported by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, will initially focus on contacts between University staff and students to understand how coronavirus spreads in a university setting. 

The researchers will collect information through an anonymous online survey, which will ask questions about participants’ contact with other people, COVID-19 symptoms and health-seeking behaviour.
The survey is open to University of Bristol staff and students aged 18 and over.

The survey will be distributed under the current physical distancing measures and repeated regularly to collect close to real-time data along with changes in those measures. This will give a picture of how contact patterns and physical distancing behaviours change over time and with different measures in place.

Emily Nixon, Research Associate in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, who is leading the study, said: “We are interested in quantifying contact patterns between individuals in the academic community because they may have quite different social interactions to the general population. The contact behaviour of students may be particularly unique, due to their living and social arrangements. Understanding these contacts will be important in developing strategies to prevent transmission of coronavirus in universities, not just here in Bristol but nationwide.

“We hope to roll out the CON-QUEST survey to other universities who may be interested and to adapt it for staff and residents in care homes.”

The study is one of a number being conducted by UNCOVER, Bristol’s COVID Emergency Research Group. Other surveys are focusing on under-represented groups, including children and older adults.

For more information about the CON-QUEST study, see: www.bristol.ac.uk/con-quest

Link to the survey (for University of Bristol staff and students only): https://is.gd/uob_covid19

Read more about the University of Bristol’s response to COVID-19.

Read more about COVID-19 research at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol.

Further information 

About the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and a partnership between University of Bristol and Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with the MRC Biostatistics Unit at University of Cambridge and University of the West of England. We are a multidisciplinary team undertaking applied research on the development and evaluation of interventions to protect the public’s health. Our aim is to support PHE in delivering its objectives and functions. Follow us on Twitter: @HPRU_BSE 

About the NIHR 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.