Wash. U. will study impact of virus but only in St. Louis County — not in the city
CLAYTON — St. Louis County officials on Monday said they plan to survey 5,000 county residents and test them for the coronavirus to help officials understand the impact of the pandemic on county residents.
The study, managed by Washington University’s Institute of Public Health, will also help public health officials understand the effect of racial disparities in public health, identify risk factors for COVID-19, and point to preventive measures that could be taken, County Executive Sam Page said Monday.
Although the impact of the virus has been felt across the region, the scope of the project covers only St. Louis County — at least for now. There were few answers about what accounted for another piecemeal response to a virus that, through Monday, had taken 847 lives combined in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
The county said its request for proposals had sought a contractor that could work with other jurisdictions “in the service of ascertaining a more complete regional understanding of COVID-19 prevalence,” but those jurisdictions would have to pay for themselves.
Representatives from St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office and the city health department did not respond to questions about whether they had been involved in any such discussions. Mary Goodman, legislative director for Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, said a reporter’s call was the first time their staff knew about such a project.
And St. Louis County won’t use any of its $173.5 million in federal coronavirus relief money to determine how the virus is affecting people in the city it wraps around. Page and other county officials have insisted their funds must be spent exclusively in St. Louis County. The city received just $35 million in aid, resulting in wide disparities in how the two jurisdictions have responded to the pandemic.
A spokeswoman for Washington University said late Monday she was looking into the newspaper’s questions about whether the university had asked St. Louis or other counties to participate and how they responded.
Will Ross, chairman of the city’s Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals, and associate dean for diversity at Washington University School of Medicine, said in a text: “Our region will lag in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic unless we advocate for regional, collaborative strategies to reduce community spread of COVID. We must also accelerate the coordinated outreach to optimize uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.”
The county is paying Washington University $2 million from its federal coronavirus relief funds to manage the study. Participants will be offered free COVID-19 testing regardless of whether they have experienced symptoms, including antibody testing to determine whether they might have been previously exposed to the virus without having had symptoms.
Page said 5,000 participants was “a very good sample size that allows us to really drill down into demographic subgroups and will give us a lot of statistically significant information.”
Page said the 30-minute phone survey will cover questions about race, gender and age, as well as how the participant may have been affected by COVID-19. Participants will receive a gift card for their time.
Participants may take the survey and opt out of testing. Page said all participants who agree to be tested will be notified of their results. Anyone who tests positive will be given a thermometer, hand sanitizer, a mask and a pulse oximeter to track the oxygen levels in their blood as they recover.
The results of the survey will be made public, but information that could identify a participant will not.
In a news conference, Page emphasized: “If you are called, please participate in the survey. You’ll be asked questions. Your information is confidential.”
Mercy, BJC HealthCare and SSM Health are collaborating on the study, Page said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 667 people have died in St. Louis County, accounting for more than half of the 1,307 deaths recorded in the state of Missouri. The area including St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties and the city of St. Louis had combined for 996 deaths Monday, more than three-quarters of all the deaths in the state.