UNION COUNTY — There are 65 residents of Union County participating in the Key to Oregon, a statewide study on COVID-19.
“We really believe all Oregonians play a role in learning about how COVID-19 is impacting the state,” Tyler TerMeer, a community leader involved in the study, said. “One way a person can do this is by accepting the invitation and participating in the study.”
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, mailed 100,000 invitations to randomly selected Oregonians to take part in a study to better understand the coronavirus. So far, 9,000 people have enrolled. Anyone 18 and older in the household that received an invitation may participate in the study.
“The project began when the pandemic started as a way to try to give people in the state as much information as possible,” lead researcher Jackie Shannon said. “We are trying to learn about how the virus spreads and how it is impacting communities across the state.”
OHSU sent 1,500 invitations to Union County residents. The 65 who volunteered to participate spend 10-15 minutes each day for 365 days sharing their health status through a survey.
“For a majority of participants, it is a simple login and temperature check on a daily basis,” Shannon said.
The study monitors a person’s daily temperature and any COVID-19 symptoms. If a person has symptoms, they may be sent a test kit at no cost, and those without symptoms also may receive a test kit at random. An Oregon Health & Science University medical professional contacts those who test positive to discuss results and care. None of the Union County participants have tested positive for the virus, according to Shannon.
Erik Robinson, senior communications specialist for OHSU, said those who participate are incentivized to do so by the knowledge they are helping people better understand the virus.
“Yes, if you have symptoms you can get a free test, and yes, you can get a thermometer, but those are the little things that incentivize people,” Robinson said. “The big thing is the idea we can better understand this virus because you helped by participating. It is out of altruism.”
Researchers also are looking to gather data about how the virus is affecting a person beyond their health status. Participants can take weekly surveys on finances, attitudes about the virus and thoughts on topics such as schools reopening or face covering regulations.
The plan is for this study to be a model for the future in collecting data for marginalized communities, according to TerMeer. The study is collecting data on race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. TerMeer said by identifying those traits, researchers can monitor if the virus is having a stronger effect on certain communities.
“It is a study meant to reach a broad spectrum of the communities in the state,” he said. “We are looking to make sure communities who we believe to be more severely impacted have their voices heard. We want to have a safe and healthy community, but the only way for that to be done is by including a broad spectrum of communities.”
The more that can be learned about how the virus is affecting each community, the more help can be provided for those communities to obtain access and break down barriers to the care and services they may need in their area, TerMeer said.
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects individual data. OHSU is sharing the results with the Oregon Health Authority and Portland State University School of Public Health. Shannon said data and preliminary results of the study are not available because it is too early in in the process and not enough people are participating.
The study is mailing a second round of letters to gain more participants.
“The eventual goal of our study is to provide real time data and help leaders make their decisions,” Shannon said. “We are still in the beginning stages but we are constantly collecting and tracking all of the data. Large-scale decisions need to be made, but also at the local level we should be working to learn about individual populations.”