Queen’s Researchers study COVID transmission in post-secondary students

During the pandemic, some fields of study at post-secondary institutions require students to be present on campus for in-person learning, and access to on- and off-campus research and learning facilities. The Government of Canada is investing $223,161 through Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) to support a research study looking at the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, and immunity on the Queen’s University campus.

According to a release from Queen’s University, the study will recruit 500 students from the Faculty of Health Sciences who are not showing any symptoms. Students from this faculty have direct and routine interactions with each other, the general public, and ambulatory and in-patient populations at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the virus.

“We have two primary objectives. First, we want to identify carriers of the virus with no symptoms to determine the prevalence of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection among these students. Second, we will evaluate antibody levels for any change from negative to positive or vice versa over the eight-month period to see whether it can be linked to immunity,” said Dr. Anne Ellis, Professor, Departments of Medicine and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University.

Dr. Ellis, with Co-Investigators Drs. Stephen Vanner and Prameet Sheth will run this study, which will test the students for active COVID-19 infection, and test their blood for the presence of antibodies, which would suggest that they had a previous infection. Both types of tests will be repeated on all participants three more times over eight months in order to capture any changes in infection rates and antibody levels, according to the release.

The study is recruiting students on an ongoing basis. “The study started on a small scale in June, but heavy recruitment took place over several months in the fall. The study is still looking for new participants to help us meet our goal of 500,” Dr. Ellis told Kingstonist in an email.

Through the use of follow-up questionnaires, researchers will determine students’ degree of anxiety and their coping mechanisms to make correlations between mental health status and changes in their COVID-19 testing status, Queen’s said in the release. They will also look at changes in mental health status associated with learning about COVID-19 test results for active infection and for immunity.

A similar study is taking place at the University of Waterloo. It will have a larger sample size, taken from the university population at large. Further reading on this can be found here.

Dr. Ellis says the local study results will be published and available to the general public, but in order to get to that point, they need more student volunteers.

“Participants will complete a questionnaire to establish associations between their test results and other factors such as demographics, physical health measurements, lifestyle factors, medical history, travel history, COVID-19-related history, COVID-19 prevention practices, exposure and testing,” Dr. Ellis said.

Interested students in the Faculty of Health Sciences can find out how to participate here. There is no compensation for participants.

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