MDH officials begin statewide COVID-19 survey of Minnesota households

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: September 15, 2020 10:43 PM
Created: September 15, 2020 02:21 PM

Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) began conducting a statewide survey to better understand COVID-19 prevalence in the state.

The modified Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, survey, includes a questionnaire and free virus and antibody testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is supporting MDH with the voluntary survey, and hopes that it will help health officials and others who are part of the COVID-19 response make the best decisions for communities.

"Through the CASPER survey, we hope to better understand how COVID-19 is spreading in Minnesota and how it is affecting people," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, MDH state epidemiologist. "With a new virus, we have to learn as we go and adapt our response based on new data. Information we gather in this survey will allow us to refine our recommendations to best meet the needs of our Minnesota communities in the prevention of COVID-19."

MDH said the goals of the survey are to:
•    Understand how COVID-19 has spread in Minnesota communities. 
•    Understand what caused COVID-19 to spread in certain areas. 
•    Explore how COVID-19 transmission and infection rates differ among regions in Minnesota. 
•    Identify the percentage of people infected with COVID-19 that have no symptoms. 
•    Improve health messaging and help stop COVID-19 spread. 

From Monday through Sept. 30, teams of public health professionals will visit randomly selected households in 180 preselected sites around the state, MDH said. 

They have divided the state into six regions, with 30 sites each. 

"That really allows us to understand not just who has good access to testing and good access to things like online surveys but really being able to give everyone an equal likelihood of being selected for this study," said Stephanie Yendell, a senior epidemiology supervisor. "This really allows us to get deep into the communities, hear from people and also find out how many people have had exposure."
For those who agree to participate, one member of the household will complete the questionnaire. All members of the household who consent can receive a COVID-19 test and an antibody test.

"Our minimum level of participation is at least participation in one of the sample types (antibody or diagnostic test)," said Yendell. "This really started out as an antibody testing study so that's the probably the overarching goal, to understand how many people in Minnesota have been exposed to COVD-19. That questionnaire provides us more information to help us interpret those results so we can understand the why some areas may have been more highly exposed than others."

Only the households approached by the investigation teams are eligible to participate. Teams will be wearing face masks, vests and badges that identify them as members of the MDH COVID-19 Survey Team.

MDH said those who test positive for current infection or for antibodies will be contacted by a nurse at a later time to receive additional information. All questionnaire responses will be kept private.

"We encourage people to participate in the survey if their household is selected. Along with being able to receive free, in-home testing for current and past COVID-19 infection, this is a unique opportunity for people to help us learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 and aid in our efforts to fight this pandemic," said Lynfield.

According to MDH, the survey results will be used by the modeling teams to cross-check their work. It could also help identify areas where there is limited access to testing or doctors' appointments in certain areas of the state.

The CDC developed the CASPER approach as an evidence-based tool to assess community needs. It has been used to collect information during emergencies such as hurricanes, oil spills and the Zika virus outbreak, according to MDH. Several other states are also conducting the survey.

"This is really an important piece of the puzzle," said Yendell. "We're just trying to scrape away the layers with this virus to understand more and more. It's really important we have this information now so we can also look at similar information in the future and to be able to compare where we are now versus where we were then."

Households that participate in the CASPER survey will receive $20, which according to MDH is standard practice for surveys and focus groups.  

The survey is funded through COVID Relief Funds that MDH received.

You can find more information here.

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