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Washington University, St. Louis County collaborate on COVID-19 survey

Project will involve testing of up to 5,000 county residents

August 10, 2020

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Washington University in St. Louis, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and other collaborators are conducting a survey of St. Louis County residents and offering COVID-19 testing to gauge the prevalence of and risk factors for the illness.

Working with the county, Washington University’s Institute for Public Health is teaming up with other local public health and health-care providers to conduct a phone survey of up to 5,000 St. Louis County residents. Participants will be selected in a statistically random way so that responses from these 5,000 participants will shed light on the experiences of St. Louis County residents most broadly. Participants will be offered free COVID-19 testing at convenient locations across the county, regardless of whether they have symptoms. They will be offered either diagnostic testing to detect active COVID-19 infection or antibody testing to detect previous infection. Transportation to and from testing sites will be provided free of charge to those who need it.

The 30-minute phone survey will include questions about age, race, and gender, and how the virus has affected participants. Those who complete the survey and a test will receive Visa gift cards to help compensate them for their time and effort. When residents receive a call to participate in the survey, their caller ID will say: COVID19 STL Survey.

All participants will be notified of their test results. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will receive a thermometer, a pulse oximeter to monitor oxygen levels in the blood and a face mask and hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of infection to others. Medical personnel will follow up with anyone who tests positive to check on symptoms, at no cost to the participant.

“I am grateful that our Department of Public Health, Washington University’s Institute for Public Health and the other partners have agreed to work together to help determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community,” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said. “These critical partnerships will help us better understand the impact of the virus so that we can use our resources as effectively as possible.”

William G. Powderly, MD, the Larry J. Shapiro Director of the Institute for Public Health and co-director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the School of Medicine, added: “We want to encourage St. Louis County residents who receive a call to participate in the survey and testing. The information they provide and the testing will be vital in helping us understand the impact of the pandemic in our region. We won’t know the extent of COVID-19 cases in the region without testing a random sample of the population.”

The Institute for Public Health is managing the project and coordinating data flow and analysis. Collaborators for the COVID-19 testing include BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. The University of Missouri helped design and will conduct the survey. The St. Louis Integrated Health Network will provide consultation to the team related to community engagement and will assist with delivery of follow-up services.

​“We don’t fully know how the virus has affected the health and well-being of St. Louis County residents or how many may be infected with COVID-19 without feeling sick or getting a test,” said Spring Schmidt, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “This project will be instrumental in helping us make service delivery decisions that ease the stress and suffering for residents in the county – especially for those most affected.”

The $1.99 million cost of the project is being paid out of St. Louis County CARES Act funding, as part of St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s efforts to address the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 in the county. The department ultimately will use the project data and results to help inform decisions about public health and health-care delivery regarding the ongoing pandemic and possible future epidemics.

Results will help the department determine:

  • The proportion of residents who have had the virus compared with how many have been tested.
  • How the virus has affected residents’ health and well-being.
  • How best to address disparities between racial groups as they pertain to COVID-19.
  • Which risk factors are most commonly associated with COVID-19.
  • Preventive and/or mitigation measures regarding the virus.

Once the survey is complete and data have been analyzed, the Institute for Public Health and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health will publicly release information about the prevalence of COVID-19 in St. Louis County and the impact the virus has had on those surveyed. No personal identifying information about participants will be released to the public.

This survey is not related to any current COVID-19 vaccine or treatment trials, nor will participation in this survey be linked to any clinical trial. For additional information, residents may call 314-273-3620 or visit

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.