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Sedgwick County's Struggling To Find Participants For COVID-19 Study

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Sedgwick County is recruiting residents to participate in a COVID-19 study.

Sedgwick County is having trouble getting people to participate in a countywide COVID-19 study.

County health officials are trying to recruit 1,400 randomly selected people to be tested for COVID-19. The test results would help determine the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

The county mailed information to selected households and is using a call center to make follow-up phone calls to schedule appointments for the free testing.

About 4,000 calls went out in the past few weeks, but the county is struggling to get a statistically sound sample.

Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman says only half of the people contacted answered the call or returned a message. So far, fewer than 100 people have signed up for the study.

“For whatever reason, we haven’t had the level of response that we had hoped for in getting that randomized sample so we will continue to push that this week and see what we get,” Kaufman says.

Kaufman says the call center will continue contacting people for at least another week. Phone calls come from a local phone number with a (316) 660 prefix like all Sedgwick County departments.

“It may be that in this day and age, telephone scheduling doesn’t work, and we’ll have to assess that. By the end of the week, we’re still optimistic that we’ll get some more data,” Kaufman says.

The first round of testing was last week, June 18-20. Participants do not need to have any COVID-19 symptoms. The county says testing will identify residents with active coronavirus infection on the day the nasopharyngeal (NP or nose) swab was collected. The tests will not determine whether a person was previously infected with the virus and has recovered.

A second round of random test sampling was planned for mid-July, but now that might be in question. The health department had planned to compare test results of the two studies to determine if the spread of coronavirus across the county has changed.

Earlier this month, the county opened up its free testing to people who don't have any COVID-19 symptoms. Prior to that, the county had been using strict criteria to determine who was eligible for testing.

Sedgwick County reported 41 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total cases since March to 937.  Deaths increased by one to 26.  The county has 310 active cases of the disease, more than double the amount since restrictions on businesses were lifted May 27.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.