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UW study looks to understand spread of COVID-19 ahead of potential fall wave

Unlike other COVID-19 studies, scientists say they are looking at participants who represent the entire Washington population.

SEATTLE — A new study led by scientists with UW Medicine and the Washington Department of Health is hoping to get some answers on how COVID-19 has spread through the state.

The study, dubbed the Washington Coronavirus Exposure Survey (WAVES), is statewide and aimed at getting a better sense of just how many people in Washington have been infected by the deadly virus, including those who may not know they were ever infected, and where those people live.

"Who are the people infected? Where are they, what are their characteristics? We're actually actively inviting people to participate in this," explained Dr. Keith Jerome, head of the Virology Division at UW Medicine.

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The study will also look at factors like race and ethnicity to determine the risk and burden COVID-19 and the pandemic have had on various communities throughout the state.

Roughly 8,000 people who have been randomly selected will complete the survey, as well as a nasal swab and blood test for COVID-19 and antibodies.

They will then receive their results with initial participants being invited back up to three times to give information on infection trends over time.

What makes this study unique compared to others involving COVID-19, according to UW Medicine, is that the WAVES survey participants represent Washington’s entire population.

“We want to get the information back to the communities that we're working with," explained Jerome. "So, we have a lot of interest in reaching out, for example, with the tribal communities as well as underrepresented minorities and other populations that are at high risk within the state."

Jerome said participants will be randomly recruited via a notice they receive in the mail. The notice, which will look similar to a postcard, will have a QR code and phone number that will connect them with the survey.

He hopes the first results of the survey will be ready to help the state prepare for a potential fall wave of COVID-19.

“We will come to your home or a convenient place for you and take the samples," said Jerome. "We're trying to make this as simple and easy as we can for folks, and hopefully, if we can do that, the results will be ready by fall. So, that this first set of decisions that can be made about schools and testing and keeping things open and all these things that we need to decide about, we'll have as much information as we possibly can.”

Scientists have already begun the recruiting process, and they are urging Washington residents to check their mail and respond if they’ve received one of the postcards.

Gov. Jay Inslee has said that the state will fully reopen by June 30 or sooner once 70% of Washington residents at least 16 years of age and older have received a COVID-19 vaccine. 

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