Rutgers School of Public Health

Rutgers Launches COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study in Essex County

Researchers will test for antibodies to better understand the spread of the novel virus.

Newswise — Newark, NJ – Rutgers School of Public Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and the North Jersey Community Research Initiative, have launched a study to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) antibodies among Essex County residents using seroprevalence testing.

The researchers - led by Henry F. Raymond, associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health and assistant director of public health at the Rutgers Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness; Maria Gennaro, professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; and Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health - will set up random pop-up antibody testing locations near high foot-traffic supermarkets and convenience stores in Newark, Essex County’s largest city. Researchers will randomly select shoppers at scheduled times to ask them if they are willing to complete a short survey and provide a finger stick blood sample for antibody testing.

The study is modeled after the National Behavioral Health Surveillance study, which assesses HIV prevalence and risks in vulnerable populations.

The majority of national and state testing efforts have focused on diagnosing those with active COVID-19 infection through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which does not alone provide a complete picture of the virus’ impact on a population.

Testing for COVID-19 antibodies, a complementary public health approach with a long history, allows researchers to better understand the spread of infection in those who did not present with the active form of SARS-CoV-2, which is necessary for calculating the risk of disease and death caused by this novel virus, particularly in Black and Brown communities.

Other national COVID-19 seroprevalence studies have been undertaken in major U.S. cities, but miss key segments of the population because they fail to adequately sample residents and do not include densely-populated and significantly diverse areas like Essex County, which has 6,000 residents per square mile, of who 61.2% are Black and Latinx. The county is also a regional transportation hub that has train, commuter lines in and out of New York City, and an international airport, which will likely yield a large number of residents who may become infected with or have had COVID-19. A large proportion of these individuals will not have the ability to take precautionary measures - like social distancing and self-quarantining - due to the types of jobs they perform and inadequate access to testing and medical care.

Understanding how COVID-19 spreads in high-risk populations, like those living in densely populated urban areas who are disproportionally impacted by health disparities, through both PCR and seroprevalence testing, can help monitor the pandemic, model the population’s current immunity, provide information on the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies, and design rational interventions against the spread of the novel virus.

As New Jersey braces for a second SARS-CoV-2 wave in the fall, the state will need to invest in conducting antibody testing across the state.  

The study is partially supported by a Pfizer grant, which provided $150,000 to examine venue-based approaches to seroprevalence studies of SARS-CoV-2 infection in New Jersey.

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Rutgers School of Public Health The Rutgers School of Public Health - New Jersey’s leading academic institution in public health - is committed to advancing health and wellbeing and preventing disease throughout New Jersey, the United States, and the world, by preparing students as public health leaders, scholars, and practitioners; conducting public health research and scholarship; engaging collaboratively with communities and populations; and actively advocating for policies, programs, and services through the lens of equity and social justice. Learn how the Rutgers School of Public Health is "keeping the ‘public’ in public health,” by visiting them at https://sph.rutgers.edu.

About Rutgers New Jersey Medical School Founded in 1954, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School is the oldest school of medicine in the state. Today it is part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and graduates approximately 170 physicians a year. In addition to providing the MD degree, the school offers MD/PhD, MD/MPH and MD/MBA degrees through collaborations with other institutions of higher education. Dedicated to excellence in education, research, clinical care and community outreach, the medical school comprises 19 academic departments and works with several healthcare partners, including its principal teaching hospital, The University Hospital. Its faculty consists of numerous world-renowned scientists and many of the region’s “top doctors.” Home to the nation’s oldest student-run clinic, New Jersey Medical School hosts more than 50 centers and institutes, including the Public Health Research Institute Center, the Global Tuberculosis Institute and the Neurological Institute of New Jersey. For more information please visit: njms.rutgers.edu.

North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) NJCRI is a non-profit organization in Newark, New Jersey that provides medical care and support services for highly vulnerable and hard to reach patient populations (e.g., homeless, HIV/AIDS, transgender, MSM, injection drug users, sex workers), 83% of whom are people of color. NJCRI is one of New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive community-based organization. Our mission is to "empower our clients by reducing social and health disparities in the greater Newark area.” Over the past 30 years of service NJCRI has adapted and changed to rally the fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as providing important social services to our community. For more information, visit: https://www.njcri.org/.




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