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Ross Boyce, MD, and Allison Aiello, PhD

Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, assistant professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division, and, Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, are leading a study along with Aaron Fleischauer, PhD, MSPH, at NC Department of Health and Human Services and other agency partners to understand how widespread cases of COVID-19 with mild or no symptoms are in the state and to monitor the prevalence of the disease over time.

“North Carolina’s actions to flatten the curve and fight COVID-19 are working. We know we need more testing of all types, and this research partnership will help us better understand the virus so we can keep our communities safe as we seek to ease restrictions,” says North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

The team will assess changes in COVID-19 prevalence in Chatham, Pitt, and Cabarrus counties. Participants will be recruited across different populations and monitored over several months to understand the spread of the virus.

“We have to focus our collective resources – across government, private and public sectors – to defeat this virus. Our research partners are integral to winning the fight,” says NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD.

This project developed as the result of ongoing work between the Chatham County Public Health Department, the Chatham Health Alliance and North Carolina Institute of Public Health. Launched by Gillings School alumnus and CCPHD Health Promotion and Policy Division Director Mike Zelek in 2018, the CCPHD worked with NCIPH to develop a rigorously sampled cohort of Chatham residents that could efficiently and effectively estimate a wide array of community issues at a population level in Chatham County. NC DHHS saw an opportunity to leverage this in its ongoing effort to assess the prevalence of COVID-19. Outreach from state epidemiologist Zack Moore, MD, and Gillings School alumnus Aaron Fleischauer, career epidemiology field officer in N.C. for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helped to align UNC and NC DHHS in these efforts.

The study serves as part of a coordinated statewide effort to learn more about what percentage of people have no symptoms and better understand the true number of COVID-19 infections in North Carolina. “These studies will seek to address some important knowledge gaps while building on existing partnerships including the North Carolina Partnership for Excellence in Applied Epidemiology, a collaboration between the DHHS and UNC-Chapel Hill,” says Aiello.

Last week, Governor Cooper charted a path forward for combating COVID-19 and easing certain restrictions. The plan focuses on the need for testing, tracing and trends to move in the right direction.

Read the press release from NCDHHS.

This story by Meghan Palmer first appeared on the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health website, April 27, 2020