Coronavirus research: New $13.6M study investigates COVID-19 spread, protection from antibodies in Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- $13.6 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will support two collaborative studies between UCSF, Stanford, and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to answer critical questions about the novel coronavirus and its spread in the Bay Area.

The collaborative effort, announced Wednesday, will comprise of two studies lasting through December 2020. Testing is expected to begin next week.

The first study will sample 4,000 Bay Area residents who have previously tested negative for COVID-19 to understand how the virus is moving about the region.

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The participants will be tested monthly and must be following the state-issued shelter-in-place order.

Researchers will test for the virus to measure the rate of new infections and test for antibodies to understand if participants had unknowingly been infected but recovered over the course of a given month.

"That will hopefully give us enough people in the study to understand whether there are changing trends in infection rates, that is are they dropping? Are they going up? Are there hot spots?" said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Principal Investigator for the study and Stanford Professor.

No volunteers will be accepted for the study. Participants will come from a pool of patients who have previously tested negative for COVID-19 at UCSF, San Francisco General, or Stanford Medical Center.

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Ethnic and racial diversity and representation will also be important to the study as scientists try and understand racial disparities in health outcomes by patients affected by COVID-19.

"(The Bay Area) is one of the most diverse places in the country in terms of just the wide array of racial and ethnic groups. We really do want to make sure that we have good representation of different racial and ethnic groups," said Maldonado.

The second study will focus on front-line healthcare workers in the Bay Area and examine whether COVID-19 antibodies protect us against in infection, and if so, for how long?

Researchers expect these findings to be critical to protecting healthcare workers across the world.

"If we find people in our workforce that are antibody-positive, and they're on the frontline of care and exposed to people with COVID-19, what is the rate that those people now get reinfected or can they get reinfected?" said Joe DeRisi.

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DeRisi is the Co-President of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub and UCSF Professor. He said understanding antibodies will be the key to re-opening California for business.

3,500 Bay Area healthcare workers who previously tested negative for COVID-19 will be tested for the virus and antibodies for at least 12 weeks, with some being followed for the remainder of the year.

Some results of the studies will be released on a rolling basis as enough data is made available. Final results are expected in early 2021, Maldonado said.

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