THOUSAND OAKS – As Ventura County takes steps to re-open according to state and local guidelines, efforts continue to evaluate the spread and recovery of our community from COVID-19. A diverse public and private partnership has evolved to bring two of the most sensitive and specific serology tests into Ventura County. These tests will be used by researchers to conduct a study of COVID-19.
“I am grateful our partners have worked together to bring this testing opportunity to Ventura County,” stated Assemblymember Irwin. “It is crucial for our community to participate in collecting this information, especially our underserved communities, as it will lead to informing future policy, understanding which populations have been most affected, and hopefully give additional insight on how long antibodies last and whether antibodies confer protection from future COVID infections.”
Efforts to conduct a study that will provide important insights to public health officials have been led by the Oxnard Fire Department and Dignity Health St. John’s Regional Medical Center, with support from Vanessa Bechtel and the Ventura County Community Foundation, Eric Went with Matter Labs, the County of Ventura, as well as academics from UCLA and California Lutheran University. The information provided by these tests will include countywide prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies, frequency in specific sub-groups based on high exposure or vulnerability, how long antibodies stay present in a recovered subject and a comparison of data to test accuracy and prevent false positives.
"There's still much we don't know about the epidemiology of COVID-19," said UCLA Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Hsu. "We're finding that this disease affects certain groups disproportionately, and this study will help us learn about populations that may not have been well-studied in the past." Matthew Fienup, Director of the Center for Economic Research & Forecasting at CLU added, "This study will produce vital information which will equip policy makers to be proactive in their responses to changing conditions and will help to preserve life and livelihoods across the County."
Serology tests from Bio-Rad Laboratories and Abbott Laboratories were recently obtained by participating public agencies, they are lab-based tests that require a blood draw, not the finger-prick point of care test that have recently drawn skepticism from federal regulators. These tests will be used to screen randomly selected individuals within the County and sub-groups to provide an accurate model for the study.
Testing is already underway at specific high-exposure workplaces, and throughout the community. The community testing is being led by the Oxnard Fire Department, utilizing paramedics to draw blood samples. Along with the blood draw, test subjects are being asked a series of questions to understand possible COVID-19 symptoms and demographic backgrounds for use in the study.
“The Oxnard Fire Department is proud to be a part of this collaboration,” said Alex Hamilton, Assistant Chief with the Oxnard Fire Department. “We can learn more about this virus to try and help keep the residents of our county healthy, while also allowing the economy to reopen so everyone can get back to work.” Dr. Todd Larsen, Medical Director for the Oxnard Fire Department added, “We are moving quickly into testing the current Covid-19 prevalence in vulnerable populations throughout Ventura County to help understand and hopefully mitigate the effects of the pandemic in our community. This will be a sustained effort on the part of all our public and private partners as we attempt to delineate how the disease is impacting our county over time.”
It is important for those randomly selected to participate in the testing, as the study’s accuracy depends on a true cross-section of the community, not just self-selecting individuals coming to a testing center.
“As a county-wide non-profit organization that works with our most vulnerable population, we fully support this effort to test as many in our community as possible,” said Andres Herrera, President of El Concilio. “This pandemic has affected some of the hardest to reach population. To prepare us to help and protect this population, we need as much information as possible.”
General population testing will be available, but the focus is specific neighborhood testing, up-to-date testing location information is available at oxnard.org/antibodytesting. The study is HIPPA compliant, and individual information will be kept confidential. Over the course of the next few weeks and months this study will be able to provide leaders at the city, county, and state level important information about how their response to the first wave of COVID-19 infections performed, and where to focus when and if a second wave occurs.
Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin represents California’s 44th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Camarillo, Casa Conejo, Channel Islands Beach, El Rio, Lake Sherwood, Moorpark, Oak Park, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Rosa Valley, Thousand Oaks, and Westlake Village.