County health, ASU using 'serosurvey' to determine spread of coronavirus in Valley

Posted at 2:56 PM, Sep 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-20 20:36:25-04

Thirty Maricopa County neighborhoods have been targeted for participation in COVID-19 antibody testing in what researchers call a serosurvey.

Over ten days, an estimated 350 medical professionals and students have volunteered with ASU and Maricopa County Public Health to tackle the project, which is expected to give an idea of how widespread the virus has become.

According to ASU Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Megan Jehns, the mobile teams have all the supplies found in a typical clinic.

"So they can set up a mobile phlebotomy station right in someone's front yard or on their porch," Jehns said.

On Sunday, which is the last day the project will operate, volunteers were tasked with getting 36 new blood samples to reach their goal of 168 participating households.

ASU student volunteer Lisa Jantzie has worked all ten days and said many of the people she has spoken with were aware that the volunteer would be in the neighborhood offering antibody testing.

"For the most part, people are quite receptive," Jantzie said. "There's a lot of misinformation out there. So sometimes, it just takes a conversation to just talk about what we're doing and let them know that this is for public health, and we are from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, and that their information is going to be kept completely confidential."

Finding out how many people have already had the virus is critical in fighting it, according to county health medical director, Rebecca Sunenshine.

"What we're trying to learn here is what proportion of our population has likely already been infected with coronavirus, has the antibodies, which tells us they probably have some immunity," she said. "And that helps us understand how far we need to get with a vaccine. So that we can reach community immunity with the combination of natural infection and vaccine. And then we can get rid of this mask order, hopefully, and also go back on our social distancing, and relax these practices so that we can get back to a normal life."

Sunenshine expects it will take about a month to compile the information and have it analyzed by the CDC.

"And then we present that to the Board of Supervisors and the public. And we add it into our plan once a vaccine arrives," she said.