News Public Health Research

Oregon State University expands coronavirus prevalence study to Hermiston

Jeff Bethel discuss TRACE project with volunteers, wearing masks

By Steve Lundeberg

TRACE-COVID-19, Oregon State University’s project to determine community prevalence of the novel coronavirus, will sample community members in Hermiston this weekend, July 25-26, at the request of the Oregon Health Authority and Umatilla County Public Health in response to an outbreak of cases in county workplaces.

“OHA appreciates the OSU TRACE team’s willingness to conduct a sample survey in Hermiston, which will help us understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community,” says Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer. “This data will help inform our partnership with Umatilla County to slow the spread of the disease.”

Hermiston, the largest city in northeastern Oregon at just over 18,000 people, is the first in the area to participate in the TRACE project. TRACE teams will visit 240 to 360 randomly selected residences throughout Hermiston and seek to collect as many as 400 to 500 samples from participating city residents.

“Understanding the spread of coronavirus is crucial to getting a handle on the disease that has impacted our Hermiston community so greatly,” says Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. “This weekend’s testing event is being conducted by health experts at Oregon State University and the community’s participation will help ensure the results are complete and reliable. We appreciate having state and local partners we can team up with to face this challenge.”

Umatilla County ranks first among the state’s 36 counties in the number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people, with 151.2 cases per 10,000 as of July 17. Most of the businesses where cases have spiked are in the food processing industry, though the list also includes Hermiston’s Walmart distribution center and Marlette Homes, a maker of manufactured houses.

TRACE-COVID-19 stands for Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics. Oregon State’s work in Hermiston will be a collaboration with Umatilla County Health. Hermiston residents comprise nearly a quarter of the county’s population of 78,000.

“Being true to the rapid designation and purpose of TRACE, we are pleased to be able to quickly respond to help inform the Umatilla County response to these COVID-19 workplace outbreaks,” says Javier Nieto, dean of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and one of the TRACE-COVID-19 project’s principal research investigators.

TRACE is a team-based and community-based approach to assess rapidly coronavirus prevalence, says Ben Dalziel, assistant professor in the College of Science at OSU and director of the project.

“Our goal is to partner with communities and local health officials to better understand what’s happening with the virus in northeastern Oregon,” Ben says.

The OSU team also will analyze Hermiston wastewater for the presence and concentration of the coronavirus.

“Wastewater entering the city’s wastewater treatment plant will be sampled over several days to determine if the viral load is increasing, decreasing or staying steady over time,” says Tyler Radniecki, OSU College of Engineering associate professor. “Additionally, wastewater will be collected at sites throughout the city to help identify any areas that are showing higher levels of the coronavirus.”

OSU will analyze Boardman wastewater samples as well for the coronavirus.

The history of the TRACE project

TRACE-COVID-19 began in Corvallis the weekend of April 25-26 as a partnership between five OSU colleges and the Benton County Health Department and continued on three other weekends.

The study expanded to Bend for two days of sampling May 30-31 in a joint effort of OSU-Cascades, Oregon State faculty researchers in Corvallis and Deschutes County health officials, and then twice to Newport in June and July in a joint effort with Lincoln County health officials.

At each home visited by TRACE field workers, members of the household will be invited to participate in the study. Those who choose to take part will be asked to provide information such as their name and date of birth; to fill out a simple consent form; and to answer a few confidential, health-related questions.

Participants will be given a nasal-swab test kit that they administer to themselves inside their home and their minor children if they want them to take part. The field staff wait will outside, and the participants leave the completed test kits outside their front door.

“Field staff will maintain a safe distance at all times and do not enter anyone’s home. The safety of participants and TRACE field staff is a key part of the study’s research design”, says Jeff Bethel, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and co-director of the project.

The tests used in TRACE-COVID-19 collect material from the entrance of the nose and are more comfortable and less invasive than the tests that collect secretions from the throat and the back of the nose.

The field workers will leave participants with information about the project; how they will receive their results; as well as health guidance from Umatilla County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants in the study will receive their results and those of their minor children by secure e-mail with receipt by mail as a backup. Everyone’s personal information is safeguarded.

The TRACE study is a collaboration of the OSU colleges of Science, Agricultural Sciences, Engineering, Public Health and Human Sciences, and the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, plus the OSU Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation initially funded the sampling project in Corvallis, along with assistance provided by the OSU Foundation and the OSU Alumni Association. Funding from PacificSource Health plans allowed for the expansion to Bend and Newport and additional sampling in Corvallis. The state is paying for the TRACE work in Hermiston.

The diagnostic testing component of TRACE operates through a partnership between the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which is located at OSU, and Willamette Valley Toxicology.

For more information TRACE, visit the TRACE-COVID-19 website. The site is in both English and Spanish and includes a list of frequently asked questions.

COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019, and has been confirmed in more than 13.6 million people worldwide and killed more than 585,000 people. In the United States, there have been more than 3.5 million reported cases – including more than 13,500 in Oregon – and more than 137,000 deaths nationwide. Umatilla County has had 1,184 confirmed cases and nine deaths.