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How are you doing during the COVID-19 crisis? Scientists want to hear your story

Alan Boyle
Apptentive employees who are working from home in Seattle are captured in a photo of a recent video chat. (Photo courtesy of Apptentive)

Researchers at the University of Washington are launching a study aimed at answering the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds as the coronavirus epidemic spreads through the Seattle area: How are you holding up?

The King County COVID-19 Community Study, a.k.a. KC3S, is recruiting King County residents to tell their stories. The study is scheduled to collect data through April 19.

“We want to start collecting this information now — as the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding — about how families and communities are being impacted, and how they are adapting,” Nicole Errett, a lecturer in the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, said today in a news release. “Our goal is to understand how individuals are dealing with these new and far-reaching public health response measures and document how communities are rising together to meet unprecedented challenges.”

The results could help researchers and public health officials figure out what works, and what doesn’t, for the current epidemic as well as for future crises.

KC3S is being led by Errett and Tania Busch Isaksen, a senior lecturer in the department and a UW clinical assistant professor of health services. Any adult King County resident can take part in the study, which involves answering an online questionnaire and writing up a summary of their experience during the outbreak.

The questionnaire asks about your behaviors — for example, hand-washing and social distancing — as well as your senses of well-being and your concerns about COVID-19. It’s available in English as well as Spanish, and may be adapted for other languages as well.

The written part of the exam can be as short as a sentence or as long as a page. Researchers want to know how the disease and the measures that are aimed at controlling its spread have impacted you and your community, how you’re coping with the changes in your routine, and what you’re concerned about.

“We’re also interested in learning about the experience of public health workers, healthcare workers, emergency managers and first responders,” said Busch Isaksen.

Errett said the essay answer “is actually the central piece of the study.” The researchers plan to analyze the stories to see if common problems, issues and acts of resilience arise in response to the public health measures that have been put in place to counter the outbreak.

Those restrictions have become progressively tighter in Washington state as the virus has spread: Just last week, sit-down restaurants and bars were ordered closed, and sports events were suspended. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order.

The UW study aims to collect more data about the restrictions’ lesser-known effects. For example, how do social-distancing measures affect the mental state of populations who are potentially at risk, such as the disabled and the elderly? How do business shutdowns affect workers and consumers? Which strategies work best to mitigate the negative effects of public health requirements?

“What we find will hopefully inform recommendations to public health officials going forward, so that we can remain safe — and also thrive,” said Errett.

King County residents who are 18 or older can join the study via the KC3S website.

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