iTHRIV Funds Data Driven Efforts to Combat COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the lives of millions worldwide. Many have answered the call to help reduce the spread of the virus through social distancing, quarantine, and, in some cases, by providing crucial health data. iTHRIV CTSA partner sites have conducted unique projects seeking to provide researchers with valuable data gathered from Virginia residents.
Natalie Cook , Ph.D., an assistant professor of public health in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and co-investigator Sophie Wenzel, DrPH, MPH, an assistant professor of practice and associate director of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Public Health Practice and Research, noticed a rise in conflicting information surrounding the pandemic.
“There was so much information at the beginning of COVID-19, a lot of it was misleading, confusing, or outright false,” Cook said.
Contradictory information from multiple sources leads to misunderstanding and confusion. Many Virginians were wondering what to do to protect themselves and their families from the virus, while others may not have been taking the pandemic seriously. The two researchers created an online survey to better understand how Virginians perceive COVID-19 communication and how it affects their actions.
“We were driven by a desire to make sense of it all,” Wenzel said. “We really want to understand what messages or messengers Virginians trust. Where and how are people getting their information? That is very important.”
The goal of this state-wide effort will be to create a better understanding of how to communicate critical messages and reduce harm to Virginians. The team hopes that this research will allow institutions to communicate important health messages more effectively. The survey portion of the study concluded in the summer, and the researchers are now meeting with small focus groups to explore demographic specific responses while they begin analyzing data. The study team includes public health professionals, healthcare providers, educators, and researchers.
During the early days of the pandemic in Northern Virginia, Inova Health System physician Christopher deFilippi, MD initiated a COVID surveillance program to study higher risk healthcare workers. The study enrolled approximately 1,850 participants from Inova Fairfax and Alexandria Hospitals, around 75% of which had regular contact with hospitalized patients with COVID-19. The goals of the longitudinal study were to monitor the prevalence of asymptomatic exposure to COVID, examine the factors that may be associated with exposure, and to evaluate critical scientific questions that could be relevant to the Inova front-line workforce. Using a series of soluble biomarkers, the team will also attempt to determine the effects of COVID related inflammation and end organ injury in the cardiovascular system, the liver, and the kidneys. The scale of the study has provided additional opportunities to determine not only antibody titers, but the relative efficacy of this immunity with respect to neutralizing antibodies using a live virus functional assay. Inova, in collaboration with George Mason University have found evidence indicating that immunity is sustained over at least 2 months; they have submitted these results for publication.
Meanwhile, at the University of Virginia (UVA), Principal Investigators Don Brown, Ph.D., and Johanna Loomba, ME, CCR, partnered with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), as well as a cross-state advisory group to create an online tool to collect COVID-19-related health and wellness information from Virginia residents. The “COVID and the Commonwealth: An iTHRIV Health Status Registry” project aims to fill an information gap by collecting self-reported data from individuals who may be healthy or convalescing at home.
“It’s difficult for health researchers to know what’s happening in the state," Loomba said. “The iTHRIV registry gives us a way to gather all that information in one place, which is more efficient.”
The information collected will pertain to simple demographic identifiers, such as age and gender, social questions regarding job loss and stress, as well as more detailed inquiries surrounding health. The registry is not designed to address one specific question, but rather is an ongoing effort to collect and pool this valuable data.
Together, these projects each represent a commitment from iTHRIV and its partner sites to advance translational research and a desire to serve Virginia residents.