Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have launched a new population study to track the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Bay Area.
The study, called the Community Alliance to Test Coronavirus at Home, or CATCH, would estimate the true population prevalence of the coronavirus by having people take a simple test at home, according to the study website. The project is led by Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatric infectious diseases and of health research and policy; Stanford's Quake Lab; and Lorene Nelson, associate professor of health research and policy.
The study uses a new technology called Vera, which was developed by Stanford University through a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, Microsoft and other organizations. Stanford also plans to offer Vera more broadly to insitutitions, schools, public health agencies and other groups to track the virus.
"The initial goal is to have thousands of people in the Bay Area order and collect their own specimens, then send them to labs that can perform the actual test," Maldonado said in a School of Medicine press release issued Sept. 30.
Unlike most nasal-swab tests performed at testing sites and medical facilities, individuals can swab the lower inside of their nose without having someone push the swab all the way up the nasal passage to the back of the throat.
Prospective study participants take a five-minute online survey and report of the state of their health. Those who qualify place an order for a test kit shipped directly to their home usually within 24 hours and send their sample back for analysis. The tests are picked up by a medical courier after the participant marks on their online account that their sample is ready. The Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory oversees the testing and results, which are available in 48 hours on average, according to the study website.
The test is free to the selected participants and is open to anyone 5 years or older in the San Francisco Bay Area, whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or not.
The researchers hope to develop a better understanding of the differences between symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and learn how COVID-19 spreads within households and in communities.
The CATCH study is a pilot project, but the research team hopes to eventually have the program running across the country. Stanford wants to distribute the Vera technology platform broadly, which includes software for board testing and tracing COVID-19 cases and the swab test kits.
"Vera could help schools and universities boost on-campus testing, allowing for active monitoring of the students’ health and potentially helping administrators gauge when and if to reopen on-site learning," Nelson stated in the press release. The platform could allow for more streamlined surveillance and tracking of COVID-19 cases, saving health care workers time and preventing them from possible exposure and from having to use valuable personal protective equipment, according to the School of Medicine's press release.
The low-cost technology allows for affordable testing of large numbers of people in any group or organization. It could also help public health departments speed up testing and monitoring of vulnerable populations.
Stanford plans to make the technology available to academic institutions, public health departments, laboratory providers and other institutions under noncommercial terms.
"Since the early days of this pandemic, Stanford has recognized how crucial testing is, and will continue to be, as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis," Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, said in the press release. "The Vera platform is a step forward in our goal to support widespread testing to individuals not just in our community, but throughout the country."
The platform can also address testing inequities by reaching underserved populations that are at greatest risk for the SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus that causes COVID-19, Vera program leader and CATCH study Director Patrick Arensdorf stated in the release.
"These individuals often work in essential occupations and have difficulty accessing health care facility-based testing. Vera provides them a convenient and rapid home-based testing option," he said.
To sign up for the CATCH pilot study and find more information, visit catchstudy.stanford.edu. Anyone without internet access can also join by calling 833-971-2468. Institutions interested in the technology can find more details at vera.stanford.edu.