A new multidisciplinary research project at MU is examining the connection between COVID-19 antibodies and community members’ behaviors and decision-making.
Clinical and social science methods have been combined to provide researchers with a holistic understanding of how behavior is tied to the spread of the virus within MU’s community, said Enid Schatz, professor and chair of MU’s Department of Public Health.
On the social science side, participants respond to a survey, which researchers use to understand how people make decisions about engaging in activities. The survey has 104 questions and asks about participants’ habits in the past few months, as well as their perceptions of COVID-19. It takes participants about 20 minutes to complete.
Schatz said the goal is to find out if there is a match-up between behavioral data and a health outcome.
“I’m interested in what associations there might be,” Schatz said, between what people are doing and people who might have contracted the virus. She’s also interested in identifying where those associations don’t exist.
“I think sometimes we make assumptions about groups that are not accurate,” said Schatz, reflecting on the spectacle of students at parties versus those taking precautions. Even those in the latter group can contract the virus.
“One of the things I hope this study will do is provide a more realistic and valid picture of what the variety of behaviors are,” she said.
The study then pairs this information with antibody tests obtained from a blood draw. The antibody test is used to identify participants who have had COVID-19 over the past several months.
Results of the antibody tests also provide researchers with information about people’s immune response after they have been exposed to the virus.
So far, the research team has invited a randomized group of 3,000 MU students, staff and faculty to participate in the study. They are in their second week of testing and plan to continue until late November.
The project involves researchers from several areas of study, such as public health, medicine, immunology, sociology, psychology and health informatics.
Analysis of the results will be made public before the start of the spring semester and used to inform MU’s decisions about how to best handle the virus, Schatz said.