DHEC, UofSC, to Lead Year-long ‘SC STRONG’ Initiative to Evaluate COVID-19 Infection and Immunity Over Time

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the University of South Carolina (UofSC) are leading an extensive initiative to fortify the state’s response to COVID-19. This science-guided, year-long project will provide information about disease infection and immunity over time and will help identify health inequities.

Led by Dr. Virginie Daguise, DHEC’s Bureau of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Director, and Dr. Melissa Nolan, assistant professor and epidemiologist with the UofSC Arnold School of Public Health, the SC STRONG project (Sampling and Testing Representative Outreach for Novel coronavirus Guidance) is driven by public participation. A total of 32,500 South Carolinians have been randomly selected to take part in the first wave of testing for this significant initiative and will receive a blue envelope in the mail.

Participation entails just two steps: complete a private online survey and take part in one free COVID-19 test – both a nasal swab and blood sample – that will identify both current and past infection.

“Partnering with collaborators from academic institutions, government agencies, family medicine and pediatric clinics, and nonprofit organizations across the state, this widescale public health project will track current infection rates and provide scientific evidence of immunity among various populations,” said Dr. Daguise. “Each participant’s information will remain confidential. This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for South Carolinians to directly support public health experts’ understanding of this new and deadly disease that continues to impact our state and nation.” 

Randomly selected participants include those five years of age and older, who will receive a blue envelope by postal mail. Parents or guardians will be responsible for minors’ participation. The SC STRONG project team will work with local healthcare providers and community partners to collect a nasal swab, or oral swab for children, as well as a blood sample, which is a finger prick for children. The online survey and one-time specimen collection are the extent of each individual’s participation in the project. Results for both tests will be provided to the individual within a few days.

“We’re trying to better understand the patterns of transmission within specific populations and we’re looking for existing immunity within individuals who have already recovered from infection,” said Dr. Nolan. “We’ll be using this information to make projections about the dynamics of both the spread and the immunity within specific populations – by geographical area, for example – so we can help inform public health officials’ and policymakers’ decision about the distribution of resources, such as vaccinations, testing, treatment and more.”

The SC STRONG advisory team’s biostatisticians and epidemiologists will regularly prepare interim reports about the project’s findings. These reports will include geospatial hotspot analysis, community herd immunity rates based on a variety of population characteristics, and infectious disease forecasting models based on the team’s data sampling. These reports will be publicly available on the project website shortly after each testing round at scstrong.sc.edu.

“This project centers on accurate representation of all South Carolinians and special considerations are in place to assist with participants who may be homebound, need at-home testing or transportation to have their samples collected, and those needing assistance with language barriers,” said Dr. Daguise. “Participation is limited to those randomly selected individuals who receive a blue envelope by postal mail, and project staff are on standby to answer questions and provide information about this meaningful public health project.”

Key partners supporting this project include Clemson University, Health Sciences South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina, Prisma Health, South Carolina National Guard, South Carolina Office of Rural Health and South Carolina Primary Health Care Association.

For more information, visit scstrong.sc.edu or contact SC STRONG personnel at 803-576-7378 or scstrong@sc.edu.