Limited COVID-19 testing has made it difficult for officials and healthcare providers to determine the actual number of positive cases in the state. Oregon State University and the Willamette Valley Toxicology Labratory are looking to provide answers on how prevalent the virus is, starting with Corvallis. On Sunday, they began testing individuals' self-collected samples in select neighborhoods.
The Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community Epidemics project, or TRACE-COVID-19, is aimed at determining who’s contagious, whether they’re symptomatic or asymptomatic, says Vice President for OSU Relations Steve Clark.
“There are millions of people nationwide and billions worldwide that are probably asymptomatic and have not been tested,” Clark says.
Generally, testing has been reserved for those showing severe symptoms due to shortages of equipment and chemicals needed to detect the virus.
“We’re using other materials and not compromising reagents that are in short supply around the United States, we’re actually expanding testing,” Clark says. All testing has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Benton County Health Department (BCHD), he says.
OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine had equipement to test COVID-19 in animals, but not humans. By forming a partnership with Willamette Valley Toxicology (WVT), Clark says they now have the ability to conduct nearly 4,000 tests on people over the next four weekends.
TRACE-COVID-19 workers, up until May 16, will go door-to-door and offer testing to random residences. Consenting individuals, including anyone at the residence, will be given tubs with instructions and materials needed to collect their own samples while team members wait outside.
“It’s basically taking a swab and placing it inside the individual's nose, not all the way back [into the nose] like the ones seen across the nation,” he says.
Typically healthcare providers will perform a nasopharyngeal swab when testing for COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2. This involves the insertion of a swab deep within the nasal cavity to collect samples. This is not how individuals in Corvallis will swab themselves, Clark says. “[The TRACE swab] is very simple and unobtrusive, it does not harm anyone."
"They’ll then place their swab into an individual container, wipe it clean and give the tub back to the TRACE team member,” Clark says.
Within 7-10 days individuals will receive their results from WVT, who’ll also send findings to the BCHD and the Oregon Health Authority, he says. OSU will publish non-identifying aggregate data online as well.
On April 14, Governor Kate Brown announced a framework of requirements that need to be met before reopening the state. Clark says TRACE-COVID-19 could play a key role in meeting Gov. Brown's criteria that calls for exapanded testing and tracking of COVID-19.
“[TRACE-COVID-19] will give the Governor, and the Oregon Health Authority, and our communities an indication of when we’re able to begin moving out of the level of physical and social distancing that we’re in now,” Clark says.
Though the project is still in the pilot phase, Clark says they’re hoping test statewide. The joint effort between WVT, the College of Veterinary Medicine and three other OSU colleges including the College of Public Health and Human Services, the College of Science, and the College of Agricultural Sciences, he adds TRACE-COVID-19 has the potential to become a nationwide model.
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