UO, OSU partner to measure COVID-19 prevalence in Eugene

TRACE testing kit

The University of Oregon is joining Oregon State University to expand an ongoing effort to determine the current prevalence of the coronavirus in Oregon communities.

On Nov. 7 and 8, field collection teams made up of trained students from the UO and OSU, along with a health professional, will go door-to-door in 30 neighborhoods in Eugene asking residents to participate voluntarily in the testing program, known as TRACE Community Eugene. OSU researchers also will collect and analyze wastewater in Eugene and Springfield to test for viral markers of the coronavirus.

“We are pleased to partner with our colleagues at OSU on this important initiative,” said Leslie Leve, a UO professor of counseling psychology, associate director of the Prevention Science Institute and Alumni Faculty Professor of Education. “The TRACE work complements the screening testing activities provided by UO’s Monitoring and Assessment Program by incorporating community surveillance to provide an estimate of the prevalence of COVID-19 citywide in Eugene.”

Eugene is the fifth Oregon city to join the testing effort. Previous community-wide prevalance samplings have been done in Corvallis, Bend, Newport and Hermiston. TRACE Community was one of the first community testing efforts in the nation.

The sampling helps estimate what percentage of community members carry the virus. The tests detect the virus regardless of whether those tested are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Using the TRACE Community approach gives statistically representative results from a random sample of people within a defined geographic area, painting a clearer picture of viral spread than tests that rely on people who volunteer for virus studies while showing symptoms or that test people regardless of where they live.

The results are combined with the wastewater study, which also helps show the virus’ prevalence within a community. The virus cannot survive as a pathogen in wastewater, but infected people will pass detectable genetic components of the virus into the sewer system, providing another indication of how extensive COVID-19 has been in a community.

Those who agree to take part in the Eugene sampling will be given a nasal-swab test kit that they administer to themselves inside their home and to their minor children if they want them to take part. TRACE field staff wait outside each residence, and the participants leave the completed test kits outside their front door.

The field workers will leave participants with information about the project and how they will receive their results – available in 5 to 10 days – as well as health guidance from Lane County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants in the effort will receive their results and those of their minor children by secure email with receipt by mail as a backup. Personal information will be safeguarded.

“We feel very fortunate to be in such close proximity to the UO and OSU, two top institutions that are willing to help and partner in these efforts,” said Jason Davis, spokesperson for Lane County Public Health, who encouraged community members to participate. “There is a benefit to you personally to know your COVID-19 status even if you are not symptomatic. You are doing your household and your friend circle a favor in understanding your test status and being able to prevent the spread.”

For communities to slow the spread of COVID-19, they need information about who has the virus and how quickly it is spreading. TRACE study results help local public health decision-making by providing essential data to craft a more effective response to COVID-19, which can in turn help save lives.

TRACE is shorthand for Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics. It was developed at OSU in partnership with the Benton County Health Department, and the first sampling was done in Corvallis in late April with two follow-up sampling efforts on subsequent weekends.

Leaders of the TRACE Community program say sampling and testing is safe. Field team members are carefully trained, protected and certified, and they have been tested for the virus and maintain a safe physical distance from community residents.

Testing team volunteers follow guidelines and protocols established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Oregon Health Authority and local public health departments.

The TRACE Community approach takes advantage of the research strengths at both the UO and OSU, where faculty members and researchers frequently collaborate on projects that address the state’s needs. Also, the testing effort will provide an important opportunity for OSU and UO students to help serve others at a critical time.

The OSU TRACE program complements the UO’s screening and surveillance testing offered through the UO Monitoring and Assessment Program. By combining what is learned about the prevalence rate in Eugene with the regular screening of students on the UO campus, university and public health teams can more quickly understand spread and enact contact tracing and quarantine when a positive case is found.

For the TRACE Community-Eugene program, several dozen members of the UO’s field collection team will join the OSU field team.

Both universities view the collaboration as one step in a growing portfolio of collaborations between the institutions and their faculties to understand and prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, through a grant to the UO focused on expanding testing in Latinx communities throughout Oregon, the university hopes to partner with colleagues at OSU for activities in Linn-Benton County. Both institutions are also part of a statewide effort to expand laboratory capacities for COVID-19 testing.

The University of Oregon team has experts in genomics, data science and prevention science. The OSU team includes faculty members and leadership from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, College of Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Engineering and Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.

For more information on the project, visit the TRACE-COVID-19 website. The site includes a list of frequently asked questions.