Volunteers take part in drive-thru testing, months of follow-up in COVID-19 study in Kannapolis

Kannapolis study looks at virus transmission

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (WBTV) - A landmark study underway now in Kannapolis could tell researchers things they didn’t know about COVID-19, including how it spreads through people who have no symptoms, and how to control it.

It’s research that couldn’t be attained as readily if it weren’t for the willingness of 100′s of volunteers who have agreed to take part in the study.

The official name is the MURDOCK Cabarrus County COVID-19 Prevalence and Immunity (C3PI) Study…but you can say it’s a way for researchers to track real people through the pandemic and learn from their experiences.

The study is a research project to follow the health of the volunteers for several months. The study will also test a sub-group for COVID-19 infection and potential immunity to the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.

Volunteer participants like Zenobia Fleming have very personal reasons for subjecting themselves a drive-thru nasal swab test, and at least six months of follow up study.

“Because I have had friends and family, people to have passed that was young, and old,” Fleming said on Tuesday. She says too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously and she wants to be part of the solution.

“This is not a game, it’s nothing to take lightly, it is serious,” Flemming added.

After taking part in the drive-thru portion of the study, Fleming and the other participants agreed to do at home nasal swabs and give blood samples for at least six months to look for antibodies that show prior infection and could indicate immunity.

Volunteers for the project are already enrolled in the MURDOCK Study, a landmark community-based health research initiative in Cabarrus County. Founded in 2008, the MURDOCK Study has more than 12,500 participants and is based at the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) office in Kannapolis, where a team of Duke employees launched the COVID-19 study in a matter of weeks.

“Understanding the impact of disease across the state and among our most vulnerable populations is essential to effectively target public health interventions,” said Chris Woods, M.D., co-principal investigator for the MURDOCK C3PI Study and co-director for Duke’s Hubert-Yeargan Center for Global Health.

Volunteer Wendy Pascual says doing the nasal swab wasn’t too bad.

“It was really good, it was better than I expected,” Pascaul said. “People make you feel that you are part of something important.”

Researchers say that’s because they are part of something important. This study, a partnership between Duke University School of Medicine and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, could be a key to understanding how people who have COVID-19, but no symptoms, can spread the disease to others. The rate of spread in a controlled population like these volunteers could be determined and applied more widely.

“It’s part of a larger effort really to understand the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic in several counties in North Carolina,” said L. Kristin Newby, M.D., principal investigator for the MURDOCK C3PI Study and faculty director for Duke CTSI’s Translational Population Health Research group. “We can learn about the extent of the asymptomatic spread of the virus. What we’re learning from other studies and from testing in other places is that probably the asymptomatic spread is much larger than we were originally anticipating. If we can determine who are potentially spreaders of the virus, asymptomatic with an active infection, we can help isolate them, trace their contact and prevent spread that way, so it help us understand the rate of spread in a test population.”

“If you don’t know you’re infected, you can’t protect yourself other people, you can still spread it, which is a little different from other viruses,” Dr. Newby added. “Every one of us is potentially infected and a potential spreader. It is all about being able to control this virus.”

Those are the benefits that society can gain from this study, and volunteers like Zenobia Fleming want to do what they can to make it happen.

“The more knowledgeable we are about what’s really going on,” Fleming said, “the only way we will know is that people will come forward to do things to try to help.”

NCDHHS is also collaborating with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University on similar research to assess COVID-19 prevalence in Chatham and Pitt counties.

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