Minimizing transmission: Testing asymptomatic healthcare workers to find silent COVID-19 carriers

A team of researchers at Colorado State University is leading an effort to help the most vulnerable people in our communities – residents in long-term care communities – during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last two months, a lab run by Greg Ebel, professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, tested samples from 462 healthcare workers in Colorado to determine if workers without symptoms were silently carrying the virus. The tests identified 57 people who tested positive for COVID-19 but had no symptoms.

Ebel is partnering on this project with Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging at CSU.

Ehrhart introduced the concept for the groundbreaking project during a conference call with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and state healthcare leaders, including Dr. Greg Gahm, a geriatrician and corporate medical director of Vivage, which owns a range of skilled nursing communities in Colorado and Missouri. Following the call, he tracked down Ehrhart and asked, “How can we work together?”

The purpose of the research, Ehrhart explained, is to enact an early warning system in long-term care facilities that would allow them to temporarily remove asymptomatic but COVID-19 positive caregivers from the workforce until they were no longer shedding the virus. This would minimize the chance that these workers could unwittingly infect vulnerable residents.

“The scientific community is putting their heads down, working around the clock, and sharing data across cultural belief systems and across borders that are closed right now. It’s an incredible moment of humanity and it’s the greatest interdisciplinary scientific effort that’s ever happened on Earth,” Ehrhart said.

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