In order to understand more about the coronavirus in North Carolina, Wake Forest Baptist Health started the COVID-19 Community Research Partnership. The study is fueled by volunteer participation, with thousands entering daily symptom information and a smaller group receiving regular antibody tests. The first participants enrolled in April. Now, several months later, WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with lead investigator and chief of infectious diseases, Dr. John Sanders, for an update on the findings.

Interview Highlights

On the latest information:

What we have learned in the last couple of months is that it seems very apparent that there is plenty of transmission taking place here in the Triad — in Forsyth and Guilford and all of the counties around us, and that most of the people who are getting infected are having few or no symptoms. This data has tracked very well with what we're seeing out of the county, in the state public health departments. So what that tells us is that somewhere between 10 to 20 times the number of people who are confirmed to be infected are actually getting infected, but they have so few symptoms that they would not come in to be tested. The good news is obvious. We don't want people to be sick. So it's fantastic that most people who we are seeing develop antibodies were never very sick or sick at all. That's very comforting. The bad news, and I think this is very important bad news, is that those people could have been infectious to others and were not aware that they were infectious to others. They didn't know that they had been exposed. They didn't know that they were sick. And so I hope that they were taking precautions. I hope that they were social distancing and wearing masks because they wouldn't know based on their symptoms whether or not they were putting other people at risk.

On getting a representative demographic with participants:

We have very adequate to very good representation among the antibody testing to represent the African-American community and the Hispanic community for most of the Triad region. And as we continue to spread out into other counties, we'll be adding more of that as well to it. We certainly want more, because if you only look at the 18,000 volunteers who are doing so much data entry, we are disproportionately skewed towards Caucasian volunteers. But if you look at it from the antibody testing, we have very good demographic representation.

On privacy concerns on the part of volunteers:

I certainly understand why anybody would be concerned about that. We're not using deidentified data. The data is much more powerful if I'm able to specifically link it. Now, once we pull it out of the electronic health record and start to do analysis, then we do deidentify the data. But we are trying to make specific linkages to things people are telling us in their daily symptoms and their specific health records so that part is identified. But all of our systems are HIPAA compliant and secured systems. There are multiple checks on the internet security of it, as well as the HIPAA compliance of the electronic health reporting.

On what's been learned about the fatality rate:

Some of the early projections were that the mortality rate could be somewhere between 1 percent to 4 percent. But that was really only counting cases that were coming in sick. So the more we're able to identify the cases who are not very sick, the lower that number goes. And I think that we need to gather more data before we put real precise estimates on it. But, you know, we can certainly run some very simple math and suggest that it might be as low as 0.1 percent, which is much lower than what it was originally predicted to be, but is still a significant mortality rate. That would still be a very scary mortality rate with any disease. And we we still want to take it very seriously.

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you're experiencing.

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