Oregon State University researchers have received a $2 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to create a national TRACE Center that will expand the OSU’s COVID-19 public health project to other states.
The center will harness the power of public health departments, universities and other institutions around the country to help measure the prevalence of the virus that causes COVID-19 by combining community surveillance sampling, wastewater analysis, viral sequence data and mathematical models of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence that OSU TRACE researchers have developed.
“In most communities across the country, it is still very hard to get reliable estimates of how many people are actually infected,” said TRACE leader Ben Dalziel, a population biologist in the OSU College of Science. “The TRACE Center will support a network of university-community partnerships that monitor local prevalence and develop new approaches for community-based COVID monitoring. We are extremely grateful to the Packard Foundation for helping us expand this work to other institutions and communities.”
Chad English, Science program officer for the Packard Foundation, said OSU’s TRACE work is different than most coronavirus testing strategies that rely on “trailing indicators” and provide more information about past infections than who is currently infected.
“The TRACE study and its approach to tracking the prevalence and spread of the coronavirus have proven invaluable to communities in Oregon,” said English. “With the data and other insights that TRACE provides, public health leaders now have a powerful tool in their hands to better assess the threat of the virus and make decisions in the best interest of their community.
“We at the Packard Foundation are thrilled to support the expansion of this effort to other states and universities around the country.”
Dalziel said more than 100 research universities across the nation have the capacity to help scale up the TRACE project.
“Many universities have untapped capacity to help their states tackle the coronavirus,” he said. “The TRACE team at Oregon State University is looking for universities and public health departments interested in adapting the TRACE model to their states and their communities.”
Anyone interested in partnering on the TRACE project is encouraged to reach out to the TRACE Coordinating Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics, or TRACE-COVID-19, was launched by OSU in April with door-to-door sampling in Corvallis, home to Oregon State’s main campus, and expanded to other cities around the state while also adding a wastewater testing component.
In late September, at the start of the academic year, TRACE also started conducting prevalence testing among OSU students, faculty and staff in Corvallis, at OSU-Cascades in Bend and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, along with wastewater analysis of effluent from university buildings for COVID-19 viral markers.
“It’s been fantastic to merge sewer surveillance of the virus with the sampling and modeling going on in TRACE,” said project co-leader Tyler Radniecki of the College of Engineering. “Now we have the ability to extend our impact well beyond Oregon’s borders, and that’s a huge opportunity and honor.”
The TRACE 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 functioned in partnership with county health departments around Oregon.
The data gathered and analyzed by TRACE researchers provide important guidance for local and state officials deciding which public health actions make the most sense in protecting their communities, said Katie McLaughlin, an applied statistician in OSU’s colleges of Science and Agricultural Sciences and another TRACE co-leader.
“Among its other effects, COVID-19 is generating volumes of data that need statistical interpretation so our leaders can use the information for maximum benefit,” McLaughlin said. “Thanks to all of the support we continue to receive, and thanks to Oregon State’s overarching spirit of collaboration and service, we’re able to play a key role in helping communities stay safe.”