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State study could help contain COVID

If you received an invitation in May to participate in a coronavirus study of 150,000 Oregon households, and you didn’t opt in, you should do so. The most effective weapon against this pandemic is more knowledge about how it spreads and who contracts it, as well as how many state residents may be carrying the virus without symptoms — a key piece of information that will help public health authorities in their attempts to slow the spread.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University mailed invitations to 8,450 households in Jackson County. So far, 357 have enrolled. Statewide, OHSU reports 9,000 enrollments out of 150,000.

You might want to volunteer for the study even if you didn’t get an invitation, but that’s not how the research was designed. Invitations were mailed to a carefully selected cross-section of the state’s residents, so only those invited can participate. That’s why it’s important that as many invitees as possible enroll. The more participants, the more valuable the results will be.

If you received an invitation but no longer have it, you can email OHSU at KeyStudy@ohsu.edu. In addition, reminder notices will be arriving in the mail this week.

Participants will take their own temperature and report whether they have symptoms every day by computer or smartphone. If they do develop symptoms, they will be mailed a free at-home COVID-19 test. Researchers also hope to test 10,000 participants at random who don’t show symptoms to get an idea of how many people may be infected without knowing it.

This is exactly the kind of work that needs to happen if Oregon is to have any hope of putting this pandemic behind us and resuming something approaching normal. More data about more people will lead to more understanding of how the novel coronavirus behaves and how best to prevent it from spreading out of control. That will help keep Oregon open — hence the study’s name, Key to Oregon.

Even so, it will take time. The study is designed to run for up to a year. Meanwhile, other researchers are racing to develop a vaccine.

So if you got an invitation, sign up for the study. Didn’t get invited? You can do your part, too, by wearing a mask in public places. Epidemiologists say masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. That’s based on research that shows places where more people wear masks have lower rates of infection.

The more science, the better.