In a week, researchers will know the prevalence of COVID-19 in Bend, after teams scoured 30 neighborhoods seeking a random sample of people to test for the virus.

Central Oregon Community College nursing student Jessica Thomas paired up with an Oregon State University researcher in a neighborhood by the Old Mill District. Together they knocked on doors looking for volunteers who would submit to a nasal swab to determine the prevalence of the virus in Bend.

“Our participation rate was pretty high, and I was excited,” said Thomas, who joined a team of student volunteers from Oregon State University-Cascades. “In Corvallis it was 80%. Overall we got a pretty good response. We had to educate people about this at the same time.”

The teams are part of an effort with the Oregon State University-Cascades and OSU faculty researchers in Corvallis, and Deschutes County Health Services who have launched a study called Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics, or TRACE-COVID-19.

Their goal is to find out how prevalent COVID-19 is in the community. Since the start of the pandemic, only those exhibiting symptoms, cough, fever and shortness of breath, have been tested for COVID-19.

In Corvallis, a town of 58,000, the prevalence was about 1.33 positive tests per 1,000 people, said co-principal investigator Jeff Bethel, who also is an associate professor of epidemiology at OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. Researchers conducted random samples three times in Corvallis prior to the Phase 1 reopening plan by Gov. Kate Brown and plan to do a final round of testing later this month.

“I think the weekend went well,” Bethel said, referring to the testing in Bend. “The community was receptive to our field teams, and we were able to collect the samples that we need to estimate the prevalence of the coronavirus in the community.”

Bethel said that the results should be released next week, first to the participants and then out to the general public. The random-sample research helps generate a per-1,000 population rate.

The sampling also was a good experience for Thomas, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from OSU-Cascades.

“It was interesting to see behind the scenes of what goes on,” Thomas said Monday. “It’s random to achieve the representative population. It was interesting to just see in our community the differences in people’s opinions on COVID-19.”

Alaric Hartsock, a 20-year-old OSU-Cascades computer science major, said he supported the researcher he was out with and found that most of the people in the community he was assigned were interested in being tested.

“We got about 60 to 70% of the houses we went to that were home allowed us to test them,” Hartsock said.

At the same time the OSU researchers fanned out, wastewater samples were collected from the city to test for genetic material that cause COVID-19. The goal of the wastewater study is another way to paint a picture of how prevalent the virus is in the community. While the virus cannot survive as a pathogenic agent in wastewater, infected people pass detectable genetic components of the virus into the sewer system, according to an OSU press release.

“Hopefully we’ll see a correlation between the (wastewater samples) and the testing samples,” Hartsock said. “I figure there will be less prevalence (of COVID-19) here because we’re more isolated here. I hope that it shows the correlation and then that would be pretty exciting.”

Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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