As the region attempts to pound down the upward curve of COVID-19 cases through closed schools, taped-off playgrounds, shuttered business, and social distancing, science is also ready to fight back.
An important new effort beginning this week based on the work of the researchers who sounded the earliest alarms about an outbreak in Seattle is sending out hundreds of home swab kits. Hundreds more will be sent in coming weeks.
SCAN, the Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, is described as a new “surveillance program” that will able to process about 400 new home tests for COVID-19 a day to help researchers form “a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 virus is spreading through our community,” King County Public Health said in the announcement of the new effort launched Monday morning.
Already swamped and closed before 10 AM for new sign-ups for the first day of registration, the effort represents the first “home test” attempt at measuring the impact of the virus beyond the emergency response underway to treat sick and dying patients:
You can play an important role in SCAN. We’re asking people—whether they show symptoms or not—to visit scanpublichealth.org and sign up. You’ll answer a few questions, starting with your zip code. We’ll send swab kits to those we can, focusing on the people needed to get the most representative picture possible of what’s happening in our region.
Those who register and receive kits are asked to perform a nasal swab and return the sample. “We’ll collect swabs from both those who are healthy and those who feel sick and will also test de-identified clinical residual samples,” the researchers write.
Those who test positive will be notified as researchers also will be able to begin to “build a model for how COVID-19 is moving through our region.”
“Our primary goal is to first understand where the virus exists in our region and how it is spreading,” the announcement reads.
Researchers say they will use the collected data to determine infection levels across different demographics and neighborhoods and to forecast what will come next for the COVID-19 outbreak:
By conducting focused, representative testing from a sample of people across greater Seattle and King County—ensuring we have participation from people in a cross-section of neighborhoods, including adults and children, whether they are showing symptoms or not—we will gain important information that allows us to better respond to the epidemic.
The research should also help reveal to what extent children in the area are infected by the virus and inform whether schools should remain closed.
It will also be the first avenue for Seattle area residents to be tested that doesn’t require going to a hospital or clinic. Officials are hoping for more non-clinical testing options to arrive soon to help people better manager their social distancing and self-quarantine efforts.
Officials are also emphasizing that the SCAN tests should not be “a replacement for medical care or evaluation by a healthcare provider.” A full FAQ on the project can be found here.
The SCAN project is a collaboration between King County and Seattle Public Health and the researchers from the Seattle Flu Study, the research effort that began studying influenza in 2018 and identified the beginning of the growing coronavirus outbreak here in the Seattle region despite federal pushback.
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