AS SCIENCE AND MEDICINE search for ways to curb COVID-19, a consortium of Virginia academic and health organizations is searching for something no less worthy: insights into the individual pandemic experiences of people from all walks of life.
To uncover this hidden wealth of data, the organizations have launched a population-based health study known as COVIDsmart. The initiative is recruiting volunteers from Virginia to share information on how the pandemic has affected their lives — even if they have not been infected by COVID-19.
COVIDsmart was created as a way as a way to collect information to help communities better prepare for and respond to health crises such as COVID-19, says Sunita Dodani, MBBS, PhD, Principal Investigator of COVIDsmart, Founding Director of the EVMS-Sentara Healthcare Analytics and Delivery Science Institute (HADSI) and Professor of Internal Medicine. HADSI is co-sponsoring the COVIDSmart initiative with George Mason University and Vibrent Health.
“We believe the unique experiences of a diverse range of individuals during COVID-19 can reveal important details about how the pandemic has impacted the public and can teach communities how to better respond to this and future health emergencies,” Dr. Dodani says.
The results of the research, stripped of any personal identifying information, will be made available to researchers and public health policy officials to help them identify at-risk communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The insights can help them direct resources and services where they are most needed.
The COVIDsmart survey asks questions related to health and wellbeing, as well as the social and economic effects of the pandemic. For instance, two sample questions ask, “Over the past 30 days, has your consumption of alcohol increased, decreased or remained the same?” and “Have you received the COVID-19 vaccine?”
Diversity in COVID-19 research is essential for public-health decision makers to accurately address disparities, such as access to testing, infection rates, healthcare, unemployment and availability of support services."
Sunita Dodani, MBBS, PhD
COVIDsmart differs from other COVID-19 studies in that it will provide individual and aggregate data to participants, so they can see how they and their community have been impacted by the pandemic. The study will provide resources and information to participants — such as health and safety recommendations from governmental organizations — to help them protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19 infection.
COVIDsmart also is different in its focus to recruit a diverse cohort of ethnic, racial and cultural minorities to reflect the U.S. population’s diversity and to include groups historically underrepresented in biomedical research.
“Diversity in COVID-19 research is essential for public-health decision makers to accurately address disparities,” Dr. Dodani says, “such as access to testing, infection rates, healthcare, unemployment and availability of support services.
The study, open to anyone at least 18 years old living in the U.S., will gather information about participants’ experiences through the course of the pandemic. The study consists of easy-to-understand online surveys.
“Everyone can make a difference during this pandemic by contributing to research,” says Amy Adams, Executive Director of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation at GMU. “Even if you or those you know have not been infected by COVID-19, your information about how you have been impacted is valuable.
As an incentive to participants, COVIDsmart offers gift-card drawings for those who stay active in the study.
“One of the valuable features of COVIDsmart is that participants can engage in the study virtually and remotely,” says Praduman “PJ” Jain, CEO of digital health research company Vibrent Health.
“Technology allows us to reach people wherever they are while maintaining the wide-ranging impact to health research.
To learn more about COVIDsmart, visit www.covidsmartstudy.org