Door-to-Door COVID-19 Testing Study Starts at OSU | Local News | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Door-to-Door COVID-19 Testing Study Starts at OSU

Researchers from the university may expand the study to other communities in Oregon in the coming months


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Researchers from Oregon State University in Corvallis are starting a voluntary COVID-19 testing program in their community to identify how the disease has spread—especially among people who are asymptomatic.

The program may expand to other communities throughout Oregon—including Deschutes County—in the coming months, according to Christine Coffin, director of communications and outreach for the university.

A member of the field staff for OSU's TRACE-COVID-19 study. - OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Oregon State University
  • A member of the field staff for OSU's TRACE-COVID-19 study.

The project is the first of its kind in the U.S. that will provide an overview of an entire city’s COVID-19 cases. Trained field staff started going door-to-door last Sunday and will collect 960 total samples in randomly selected neighborhoods through May 16. At each home, field staff will invite the whole household to participate. Participants will sign a consent form, provide their name and date of birth and answer a few confidential, health-related questions.

Each participant will receive a nasal-swab test kit that they’ll administer themselves inside their home while field staff wait outside. They’ll get the results in seven to 10 days. The whole process is confidential but results and personal identification information will be shared with the Oregon Health Authority, in order to adhere to state requirements.

“Testing nationally and locally has been focused on those with symptoms, but it’s likely that some people who carry the virus display no symptoms, and they may have been inadvertently involved in spreading the disease without having known that they had the virus,” said Ben Dalziel, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Science in a press release.

Scientists from OSU partnered with the Benton County health department to develop the study called Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics, or TRACE-COVID-19 for short. Researchers randomly selected neighborhoods to represent of the entire population of the city of 58,641 people.

A model for other cities and universities

The study can may be used as a model for other cities who want to measure the spread of novel coronavirus in their area, said Jeff Bethel, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. It could be used as a template for other universities to work with public health officials in their area and provide useful information. Bethel said this is especially relevant to universities with lab capacity, community engagement and public health researchers on staff.

A field staff member for OSU's TRACE-COVID-19 project stands at a distance from the woman she is about to ask to volunteer to take the test. Participants leave completed tests outside. - OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Oregon State University
  • A field staff member for OSU's TRACE-COVID-19 project stands at a distance from the woman she is about to ask to volunteer to take the test. Participants leave completed tests outside.

As of April 22, Benton County, where Corvallis is located, has 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases: Three people are currently hospitalized and five people have died, according to the Oregon Health Authority. The OHA reported today that there are 2059 total cases in the state.

“The TRACE study will provide critical information about the spread of the disease in the community, how the epidemic is changing over time and measure how public health recommendations throughout Oregon are working,” said Charlie Fautin, the interim health department co-director for Benton County.

“Importantly, this study also will help inform us as to how many people, who have no symptoms of an illness at all, may not realize that they have been infected and may have been able to transmit the disease to others, including family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors.”

Informing the decision to re-open the economy

The study will also help inform decisions made by state and local leaders about when it is safe to re-open some businesses.

“Ideas grounded in science and research have real potential to create lasting change and decision makers in philanthropy, business, and government must thoughtfully invest in needed research now, so that we can combat this pandemic together,” said Craig Neyman, the interim president of the Packard Foundation, the organization that made the initial investment in the study.

While Oregon health officials (and hospitals and clinics) have increased capacity for testing throughout the state, most of these tests have not been available to those with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

What percentage of COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic? The estimates are still all over the map, but one recent study of an outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship concluded that 17.9% of those who tested positive showed no symptoms, while a study in the British Medical Journal suggested that 78% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.

“We are flying blind in many ways because we do not know how many people are infected with the virus and how that is changing over time,” said Dalziel, who is a professor at OSU. “Without this knowledge, it is much more difficult to implement effective control measures and to forecast the spread of the disease. Right now, we are managing the pandemic mostly looking in the rearview mirror. We need to be looking forward, and that’s what this study will help allow.”

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