A local research company is conducting a study on COVID-19 infection rates and is looking for volunteers, particularly from communities of color and Latino or Hispanic populations.
In April, Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center launched a volunteer research study called CovidWatch, funded by Amazon, which aims to investigate infection rates, transmission times and the potential for virus re-infections.
The goal of the project is to understand which immune responses help to protect a person and need to be generated by a vaccine, the company said.
About 200 participants from the King County and South King County areas are enrolled. However, researchers hope to add another 100 people to the study, especially people of color and those of the Latino and Hispanic communities. Each volunteer is enrolled for six months and is compensated for their efforts.
The COVID-19 virus has a disproportionately higher impact on people of color, particularly the Latino and Hispanic populations.
As of Sept. 21, virus rates for nearly all communities of color are higher, with statistical significances. Rates are highest among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (2,577 cases per 100,000 residents) and Hispanics with 2,317.5 cases per 100,000 residents, followed by Black communities with 1,449.3 cases per 100,00 residents, according to Public Health Seattle – King County reports.
Hispanic and Latino communities make up 27.8% of all confirmed cases in King County, yet are only 10% of the 2019 King County population.
These confirmed cases are heavily concentrated in the South King County area.
Dr. Alpana Waghmare, a pediatric infectious disease physician who practices at Seattle Children’s Hospital and has a research home at the Fred Hutch center, has been studying respiratory viruses for most of her career.
Shifting focus to the virus when the pandemic started was a natural change because of her expertise and her research interest, she said.
“Despite my experience with respiratory viruses, obviously this has been an unprecedented event,” she said. “Trying to wrap my head around what was happening and seeing it unfold in real time was challenging, but also fascinating from a research perspective.”
Devastation caused by the virus has also revealed the many unanswered questions and unknowns of the disease that the research project hopes to address, she said.
Researchers are exploring what types of individuals are at high risk for acquiring infection, as well as what makes them more susceptible to having a severe infection. In particular, the study hopes to understand how the immune response varies between people that have different forms of infection, how it spreads and what the potential is for people getting re-infected.
Criteria for volunteers was first guided by one’s occupation — people whose jobs required them to be “out and about in the community,” she said. As the pandemic evolves, the study has been adjusted too, looking at the number of people in a home, behavioral patterns and volunteers’ geographic locations.
The U.S. death toll surpassed 200,000 this week, less than eight months after the first virus-related fatality, according to USA Today. The new record has doubled since the U.S. hit 100,000 deaths in May.
To qualify for the study, volunteers must be 18 years old or older, have a high risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus and complete a secure online screening questionnaire.
Volunteers participate almost entirely from their own homes with self-test kits provided to collect weekly nasal swabs and monthly blood samples for antibody testing.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns and we would really appreciate additional volunteers to be part of our study,” Waghmare said. “We’re really trying to make a full effort to be able to enroll participants who are only Spanish speaking.”
For more information or to sign up, visit covidwatch.us.