UC Berkeley researchers to conduct coronavirus study on asymptomatic individuals

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Researchers at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health will conduct a study to better understand the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the Bay Area and its effect on social distancing strategies.

Professor of epidemiology Lisa Barcellos and professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology Eva Harris are leading a team of campus researchers to identify and test asymptomatic individuals, or those that show no symptoms yet are infected, in order to determine how many people are currently or have previously been infected by SARS-CoV-2, according to a campus School of Public Health press release. The study’s goal is to help guide strategies to predict the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to end it.

“Our research is the first study in the Bay Area to identify and test a large, representative population of asymptomatic individuals, which will provide much-needed insight into transmission dynamics, the true extent of the community spread, and risk factors for infection beyond those tested for COVID-19 at hospitals and clinics,” Barcellos said in the press release.

The study starts in May and will continue for up to eight months.

According to Harris, the study includes a representative sample that reflects the targeted demographics, is repeated and shows change over time.

Researchers will recruit about 5,000 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60 along with the use of a stratified, random selection by ZIP code, sex and age from about 30,000 households in multiple Bay Area communities, according to Harris.

Through questionnaires regarding health and social characteristics, as well as blood, swab and saliva samples, researchers will be able to learn more about what determines asymptomatic or symptomatic infection and the extent to which the spread of the virus affects communities, according to the press release.

Harris added that the research conducted is considered essential work and researchers involved will be wearing personal protective equipment and maintaining social distancing measures.

There has been a lack of data on asymptomatic infection in high-risk areas such as the Bay Area, which is needed in order to prevent more cases, according to the press release.

The research is supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a research collaboration between UC Berkeley, Stanford University and UCSF, as well as UC Berkeley and UCSF’s Innovative Genomics Institute. Open Philanthropy, an organization dedicated to funding scientific research, recommended a grant of $1 million to the campus School of Public Health. Additionally, Emergent Ventures, a grant program based out of Silicon Valley, and other fundraisers are helping to support funds for the study.

“As the state and federal government look closely at ways for people to return to work and resume their lives, having large, community-based data on asymptomatic individuals will be absolutely essential for evaluating the effect of modifying social mitigation strategies,” Harris said.

Contact Marc Escobar at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.