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Southern Oregon residents can help scientists track COVID-19

Researchers are trying to find out how widespread coronavirus actually is in the community — but they need your help.

In May, Oregon Health & Science University mailed out invitations to 150,000 households throughout the state in hopes of enrolling up to 100,000 people in a study to track COVID-19.

So far, 9,000 Oregonians have signed up.

“We’re off to a strong start. We have 9,000 Oregonians — but we need more,” said Dr. David Bangsberg, one of the leaders of the study.

OHSU invited 8,450 households in Jackson County to take part, and as of late this month, had 357 county residents enrolled.

Although researchers will be able to look at the spread of the virus with a smaller group, they said having more people in the study helps them develop more accurate estimates of state infection rates. Larger numbers also help show what is happening in different communities around Oregon.

Dr. Tyler TerMeer said many people are feeling helpless in the face of the pandemic and are looking for ways to help. Taking part in the study is a way for people to help themselves, their families and their communities.

“The study truly is designed to impact the lives of all Oregonians,” said TerMeer, one of the leaders in the Key to Oregon study.

Participants take their own temperature and, using their own computers or smartphones, report every day whether or not they have any COVID-19-like symptoms. Once people get used to the process, filling in information online only takes about 2-3 minutes a day, Bangsberg said.

Participants have been asked to stay in the study for up to a year. If they forget to report in for a few days, they can just pick up where they left off, Bangsberg said.

People who report symptoms will be sent a free at-home COVID-19 test. Potential symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

If they test positive, they’ll be contacted by an OHSU medical professional to discuss results and care. The results will also be shared with the Oregon Health Authority, which is tracking COVID-19 cases statewide, and Jackson County Public Health. The county will advise and support people as they self-quarantine, and trace contacts who may have been exposed to the virus.

In addition to testing people who report symptoms, researchers hope to test up to 10,000 randomly selected study participants without symptoms. Results will help researchers measure an often-invisible source of COVID-19’s spread.

“We know that much of the [pandemic] is being propagated by people without any symptoms whatsoever,” Bangsberg said.

The goals of the Key to Oregon study are to get a more accurate picture of how many people have coronavirus, see patterns of spread, contain infections and provide information to help keep the state safe, researchers said.

Oregon took early action to combat the spread of the virus and isn’t seeing the levels of infection that are overwhelming hospitals in Florida, Texas and Arizona, Bangsberg said.

Although infections aren’t running out of control in the state so far, everyone must remain vigilant, he said.

“Early detection will help us,” Bangsberg said.

Participation in the study is by invitation only as researchers try to develop a representative sample.

People have been invited to participate who will help form a complete demographic picture of the community — including Latino, Black and Indigenous residents.

Nationwide, those groups are among the people who have been hardest hit by the virus, suffering more serious complications and deaths.

Any Jackson County residents who received but may have misplaced an invitation can still enroll by contacting KeyStudy@ohsu.edu for assistance.

Researchers have mailed out reminder letters to invited households, as well. Those should be arriving this week.

Everyone in your home who is 18 or older may join.

More information about the study is available at ohsu.edu/key-to-oregon.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Postcards have gone out inviting 8,450 Jackson County households to take part in a statewide study to track the true extent of the COVID-19 virus. Photo courtesy Key to Oregon