Atrium Health enrolls children in COVID-19 Community Research Partnership

Researchers hope to better understand how the virus spreads and affects children
Federal guidelines call for kids to be physically active for 60 minutes per day, but many U.S....
Federal guidelines call for kids to be physically active for 60 minutes per day, but many U.S. children are not achieving that.(File)
Published: May. 7, 2021 at 11:08 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A community research project studying COVID-19 infections in North Carolina is expanding to include children. Researchers are hoping to better understand how COVID-19 infects, spreads, and affects our youth.

Atrium Health, Wake Forest University, and Wake Medical Center in Raleigh are currently enrolling children ages 2 to 17 in the COVID-19 Community Research Partnership.

By enrolling, families will be sent a daily symptom checker. The symptom checker can be filled out online. It asks the participant to check any symptoms they are experiencing and answer a few questions. For example, the survey may ask if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, were you wearing a mask when you were exposed, and have you been vaccinated?

In addition to the symptom checker, participants will receive four to six antibody tests in the mail. The antibody tests consist of a finger prick and will show whether you have antibodies against COVID-19. Participants will also receive four saliva swabs to test for viral infection. Participants can submit the at-home COVID-19 test via mail to learn if they have been infected.

“I think it’s important for families to realize that by doing these surveys, by sending in these antibody tests they are going to help us learn a lot,” Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist and Epidemiologist Dr. Amina Ahmed said. “I think the pandemic looked very different last year. And even though we’re getting vaccinated and it looks like we’re out of the woods, I think there is much to learn as we go into the summer with these summer camps and daycares opening up.”

Atrium Health and several other large hospital systems across the country have been participating in the adult version of this study since April 2020. WBTV previously reported on the some of the findings of the Community Research Partnership.

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By tracking COVID-19 infection rates and behaviors in children, researchers hope to learn how many children have had COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, health officials thought children only made up 1 to 2 percent of all COVID-19 cases, but now they estimate children make up roughly 15 to 20 percent of all cases.

“Early in the pandemic we thought viral infection was from adults to kids and not so much from kids to adults,” Dr. Ahmed explained. “Later on, we learned that it can move from kids to adults and probably has more to do with households than just whether it’s adults and children.”

Dr. Ahmed referenced a recent CDC study that found children are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 at school and more likely to catch COVID-19 through social gatherings. They hope to verify and learn more about where children are more likely to get infected through this study.

“What we’re hoping to learn through this study, are we going to see more spread through these summer camps because people are vaccinated and maybe more relaxed? Or going into the school year and not hybrid or remote learning, are we going to see more spread through that?” Dr. Ahmed explained.

In addition to how the virus spreads and infects children, they hope to better understand how severe the disease can be. Health officials say Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children or MIS-C is a severe complication of COVID-19 that can arise in children. Dr. Ahmed says they want to find what other severe disease can arise in children and who is more likely to have severe disease from virus.

“We have learned throughout the pandemic that it is probably teenagers, more often obese teenagers, but who else out there is pre dispositioned to this severe disease,” Dr. Ahmed explained.

Because hospital system across the state are enrolling children in the study, Dr. Ahmed says they will also monitor differences in the virus geographically.

“Are there pockets of higher infection rates? Are some areas impacted more than others? Why are we seeing more rates of MISC in Charlotte than in Raleigh? Those are things we will learn,” Dr. Ahmed explained.

So far, about 1,500 children have been enrolled in the study. Dr. Ahmed says they are looking to enroll all children. They want to have a diverse sampling with children who are vaccinated and not vaccinated or who have had COVID-19 or not.

Enrollment is expected to close at the end of May. If you would like to learn more, click here.

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