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OSU scientists embark on groundbreaking COVID-19 study

Oregon State University scientists will embark on a groundbreaking project in the coming days as they start testing in the greater Corvallis community to determine the prevalence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The unique door-to-door effort is among the first in the nation that will provide an overview of an entire community’s COVID-19 wellness, said Ben Dalziel, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Science.

The public health study was developed by four OSU colleges in partnership with the Benton County Health Department, and is called Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics, or TRACE-COVID-19 for short.

The Corvallis study will be completed over four consecutive weekends and will provide important public health information that has been lacking throughout the pandemic. A limited pilot phase of the study in several Corvallis neighborhoods will be conducted Sunday, April 19, to test procedures the study will use in gathering and testing samples.

“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 Dalziel, the project’s leader.

“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. 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.”

In addition to providing information about the disease in Corvallis, Jeff Bethel, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said TRACE-COVID-19 can serve as a model for other cities wishing to detect the spread of the novel coronavirus in their communities in Oregon and nationally.

“We see great value in this project being used as a template for other universities wishing to provide timely and useful information to public health officials in their communities and states,” Bethel said. “Universities with public health, community engagement and lab capacity are particularly well positioned to continue this important work.”

Each weekend through May 16, trained field staff with TRACE-COVID-19 will visit a sampling of households in a representative set of Corvallis neighborhoods that have been randomly selected and collect samples from 960 people. Corvallis’ population is 58,641, comprising more than half of the 93,053 people who live in Benton County.

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