A two-year, $4.78 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded to principal investigator Sally Hodder, M.D. in September 2020 has launched efforts to rapidly increase testing for the novel coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) in communities affected by the pandemic.
Drawing upon an ecosystem of partners in West Virginia and an integrated approach, the project has made significant progress towards its primary goal of increasing SARS CoV-2 testing in rural primary care offices and through mobile vans located across West Virginia.
To accomplish the goal to alleviate testing limitations, swift strategies were implemented. Several rural primary care offices designated as testing sites received additional support including:
- Cabin Creek Health Systems
- Change, Inc.
- Camden Family Health
- Community Care of WV
- Coplin Health Systems
- Family Care Health Centers
- New River Health Association
- Rainelle Medical Centers
- Roane County Family Health Care
- Tug River Health Association
- University Healthcare Physicians
- Valley Health Systems
The testing sites continue to play a key role in the bigger public health picture on mitigation efforts, helping investigators characterize the prevalence, spread and contagiousness of the disease.
The project also stepped in to relieve the burden experienced by the pandemic-related shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing. Through this initiative, many healthcare sites in West Virginia have been provided with staff, PPE, and lab support. The State of West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has offered assistance for individuals without health insurance or not qualifying for test coverage, and the Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Laboratory Medicine (PALM) at the West Virginia University School of Medicine has pledged swabs and reagents as needed. Stemming from an understanding that each site faces unique challenges and barriers to testing, each healthcare system received supplemental funds for flexible spending to address their specific needs.
Another pillar of testing enhancements include the availability of flex agents who are personnel regionally located to provide testing support. Additionally, nine research assistants, Emily Kemper, Kathy Belcher, Mary Surbaugh, Amber Blankenship, Jada Bailey, Tristan Nutter, Barbara Bennett, Terri Wallace, and Bree Gustke were hired. The research assistants were trained by the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) on how to test for SARS-CoV2 and have been instrumental in providing support on sites and in mobile units.
To further improve their experiences, community members who have undergone the testing are asked to complete satisfaction surveys. Participants receive a $5 gift card in exchange for their time and input.
Anticipating potential outbreaks has been the sole focus of the project’s second goal. By relying on robust research data, the project team, in collaboration with the WV Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), are reviewing pandemic indicators including county transmissibility (Rt) curves and 7-day rolling incidence to determine those counties at greatest risk for an increase in SARS CoV-2. To date, two mobile units were dispatched each day to different counties in the state where potential outbreaks have been forecasted.
The West Virginia RADx-UP project is one of 70 projects across the U.S. The nationwide program supports research that aims to better understand SARS CoV-2 testing patterns among underserved and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression, and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in SARS CoV-2 testing.
For more information on the national RADx-UP initiative, please visit: https://radx-up.org/about/