By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Oregon State University staff and students are knocking on doors in Redmond this weekend asking residents to participate in a coronavirus study.
Simultaneously, researchers are taking samples from the city’s sewage system to determine community prevalence of COVID 19.
Thirty teams of health care professionals and Oregon State University students will visit Redmond neighborhoods this weekend.
They hope to find 600 residents willing to participate in a Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics study, also known as TRACE.
“If our team knocks on your door, they’ll introduce themselves. They’ll ask if you want to participate in TRACE. It’s completely voluntary,” said Jeff Bethel, Co-Director of TRACE and associate professor of epidemiology at OSU. “After they provide informed consent our team will conduct a short interview. Participants will self-collect their own nasal swab specimen for testing.”
Participants will leave the completed test kits outside their front door while TRACE field teams wait outside.
Test results will be available to participants within 5 days.
At the same time, the City of Redmond Public Works staff is gathering sewage samples for Oregon State researchers to analyze for COVID genetic materials.
The virus does not survive as a pathogenic agent in wastewater, but genetic evidence helps determine the presence of COVID in the community.
“In this case, with the OSU Health Team and OSU TRACE technician here, we are trying to sample while they are here so there can be a direct comparison between what the health technicians are discovering and their analysis, as well as the laboratory analysis,” said Jeremy Stachowski, Redmond Wastewater Treatment Supervisor. “Hopefully, those things can be combined and then it will give a clear picture of the prevalence of COVID in the community and give community leaders extra data to help make decisions.”
The field workers going door to door will wear badges clearly identifying themselves as members of the OSU study. About half of them are students.
“I got a last-minute opportunity to hop onto the team for the door-to-door experience,” said Clay Lucas, OSU-Cascades energy systems engineering student. “I just thought it would be a really great experience to get a perspective of families in Redmond. I always enjoy fun interactions with strangers.”
Deschutes County Health Director Dr. George Conway says the combined testing of asymptomatic individuals and wastewater surveillance provides helpful insights for local management of the COVID pandemic.
Redmond has a population of just over 30,000, roughly one-seventh of Deschutes County’s population of 203,000.
The county has reported 39 COVID-19 fatalities and 5,137 cases – including 2,249 people who have recovered.
There are 2,849 active cases in the county – one per every 69 residents.
OSU researchers have been testing Redmond wastewater multiple times per week since Dec. 7, 2020. Recent results indicate that the signal has remained consistently strong over the past two months.
“We are excited to participate in Oregon State University’s TRACE Community project, to gain a better understanding of COVID-19 prevalence in Redmond and how it impacts on our residents,” said Redmond Mayor George Endicott. “As an OSU alumnus, I am proud to see the innovative work being done here in my hometown. At a time when localized information is critical and hard to come by, the data from the university’s efforts will provide one more layer of detail on how prevalent COVID is in Redmond. The results will be one more variable for us as we seek to balance the economy with health in our advocacy to the state officials.”
TRACE co-leader Jeff Bethel, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said understanding the estimated prevalence of COVID-19 in Redmond comes at an important time.
“Even though the region is a hub for outdoor recreation year-round, when it’s cold outside people tend to spend a lot more time indoors,” Bethel said. “That necessitates being extra cautious and vigilant in observing our own health symptoms and following public health guidelines, such as engaging in social distancing, frequently washing our hands, wearing face coverings and limiting attendance at social get-togethers.”
The TRACE-COVID-19 project began as a collaboration of five OSU colleges – Science, Agricultural Sciences, the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, Engineering, and Public Health and Human Sciences – plus the OSU Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing. The project has worked in partnership with the county health departments around the state.
Since the project began in April 2020, OSU has performed TRACE Community sampling in Corvallis five times, in Newport twice, and in Bend, Hermiston and Eugene once each. TRACE and an affiliated project in OSU’s College of Engineering are analyzing wastewater for indications of the virus in those communities as well as many as 40 cities statewide.
For more information about TRACE, visit the TRACE-COVID-19 website. The site includes a list of frequently asked questions.