George Mason University is working with a health-care provider and a health technology company on a study of the many impacts of COVID-19 on individuals and the communities across Virginia. 

The digital study, called COVIDsmart, launched March 1 with an open call for participation. The study welcomes participants from all walks of life across Virginia to share information on how the pandemic has affected their lives, even if they have not had COVID-19.

The initiative is sponsored by EVMS-Sentara Healthcare Analytics and Delivery Science Institute (HADSI), George Mason University and health technology company Vibrent Health.

The study asks participants questions related to the pandemic and its impact on daily life, particularly its impact on financial, mental, and physical well-being such as, “Over the past 30 days, has your consumption of alcohol increased, decreased, or remained the same?” and, “How likely are you to want to receive COVID-19 vaccination?”

Dr. Sunita Dodani, professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School and director of HADSI, said the study can help minimize the impact of future pandemics.

“Sharing important information not just about your health but how you’ve been impacted emotionally, socially, economically, and other ways will help inform decisions that benefit all of us,” added Dodani, a member of the Federation of American Scientists’ COVID-19 Rapid Response Task Force.

COVIDsmart differs from other COVID-19 studies because it will give back aggregate de-identified study data to participants, so they can see how the pandemic has impacted them and their community. The study will also provide participants with resources and information — such as health and safety recommendations from governmental organizations — to help them protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources, said, “Studies like this one can help us to fully assess the effects of COVID-19 and chart a path forward.”

To represent the full picture of COVID’s impact, the study aims to recruit individuals who are diverse in age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and culture to reflect Virginia’s diversity and to include groups historically underrepresented in biomedical research.

That diversity is essential, said Amira Roess, an epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University. “Our goal with COVIDsmart is to gain and share knowledge that will aid public health organizations in giving guidance and dedicating resources that will help minimize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and any other future health crises among individuals, their families and communities.”

COVIDsmart uses a privacy-protecting, secure platform, provided by Vibrent Health, developers of the technology platform for NIH’s All of Us Research Program. The platform, which was built to collect many types of data from diverse populations, can expand to accommodate broad data sources such as wearables and biospecimens, depending on the needs of the longitudinal study.

COVIDsmart’s anonymized results will be made available to researchers and public health policy officials to help guide them in identifying at-risk communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. These insights can help direct resources and services where they are most needed during the coronavirus pandemic and any potential future health crisis.

The study is open to anyone at least 18 years old living in Virginia and will gather information about participants’ experiences through the course of the pandemic. The study consists of easy-to-understand online surveys. As an incentive to participants, COVIDsmart offers gift card drawings for those who stay active in the study.

To learn more about COVIDsmart, visit: www.covidsmartstudy.org

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