Marshfield Clinic to study rural COVID experience, impacts

The Brillion News

MARSHFIELD – Researchers at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute have received a $4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the occurrence and impact of COVID-19 in rural communities.

"This study will help us understand how the new coronavirus is affecting people in the Marshfield area. The findings will contribute to a more effective public health response, not only in central Wisconsin, but also potentially in rural communities elsewhere," said Huong McLean, Ph.D., research scientist at the Research Institute's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health and primary investigator on the study. "I am excited for our team and the great opportunity for our region to contribute to this landmark community study."



The Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health has been involved in influenza research for many years, including being a part of the CDC Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network.


This influenza research experience and the population health resources at the Research Institute contributed to CDC's decision to provide funding for this large COVID-19 community study.


The study will actively recruit and follow up to 1,500 people of all ages who live in Marshfield and surrounding areas. Enrollment, which begins in November, is by invitation only. Participants will be followed weekly for one year to identify new COVID-19 infections, assess risk factors for infection, and describe the spectrum of COVID-19 illness across the lifespan.


"We have an outstanding research team and the Marshfield Epidemiologic Study Area is an ideal setting for this type of study," said Dr. Ed Belongia, director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health. "We are happy to see that the CDC recognized the importance of studying COVID-19 epidemiology in a rural community."


Study participants will report illness symptoms online or by telephone every week for one year. All participants will collect a nose sample if they develop a COVID-19-like illness. Since the new coronavirus can cause infection without symptoms, about half of the study participants will collect a nose sample every week even if they are not sick. Participants will have three scheduled study visits for a blood draw during the first six months. The blood samples will be tested for antibodies to the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) by University of Wisconsin-Madison to determine how much of the population has had COVID-19.


The goals of the study are to:


  • Estimate the rate of new coronavirus infections in a rural community

  • Find out how often people are infected without symptoms.

  • Understand how infection risk differs by age group.

  • Compare the immune response in people with symptomatic vs asymptomatic infection.

  • Learn more about behaviors that may protect people from getting infected


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