KITCHENER -- Provincial lockdowns aren't as effective as local strategies when it comes to handling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research from the University of Guelph.

The research found a local focus helps limit the spread of the virus and minimize negative social impacts. According to the study, school and workplace closures based on local disease prevention would result in fewer closure days and affect fewer people than a province-wide shutdown. The local strategy also wouldn't result in an increase in cases.

“A key to successful lockdowns would be to have coordinated re-closing criteria and testing rates across the province,” said the study's lead author, School of Environmental Sciences postdoctoral fellow Vadim Karatayev.

The study was published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Researchers used COVID-19 case counts from Ontario's health units to look at the effects of different control strategies before a possible second wave. Those case counts were used to estimate the transmission rate of the virus, especially in more densely-populated areas.

The numbers, which were run through a model created specifically for the research, showed the infection dynamics varied between counties based on geographical and epidemiological factors, along with travel patterns.

“The model presented a clearer picture of variations in travel and in COVID-19 transmission among different areas of the province, as well as person-to-person variations in the presence of symptoms and recovery time,” said Karatayev.

Karatayev worked with U of G professor Madhur Andand and University of Waterloo professor Chris Bauch on the study. Bauch was also part of a study that found that regular-sized classrooms could result in five to eight times more COVID-19 cases in schools.

The model showed large cities were hotspots for travel and disease transmission before the initial lockdown in the spring.

“This is true for many regions worldwide, so our general finding applies to other provinces, states and countries which have flattened the COVID-19 epidemic curve,” Karatayev said. “We have seen that COVID-19 is more prevalent in large cities.”

The researchers recommend school and business closures only in areas where cases passed a certain threshold, since it can be as effective in minimizing total infections as province-wide closures.