Around 10,000 people who work or reside in care homes will be given repeat testing as part of a new UCL-led government cohort study.
The study aims to provide greater insight into the spread of coronavirus in these settings, enabling staff to react quickly to outbreaks. The research will take place in 106 care homes across England and will be carried out by a team led by Dr Laura Shallcross (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Data Foundry.
Consenting staff and residents will be given swab tests (polymerase chain reaction), to test whether residents are currently infected, as well as antibody tests, which indicate past infection. This will involve undergoing three rounds of blood tests and three rounds of swab testing over a period of 3-4 months.
The subset of residents who have an antibody response at three months will then have repeat blood tests at six and 12 months to see how long the antibodies are present in the blood. The findings will not only enable researchers to track how many people have the virus - and who - but to also understand past exposure and possible immunity among study participants, as well as how infection spreads in care homes.The study will draw on results from whole care home testing as well as data and findings from pre-existing studies to help build a more comprehensive picture of how outbreaks play out over time within the same home.
Chief investigator Dr Shallcross said: "This study will provide unique insights into the proportion of care home staff and residents who have already been infected with COVID-19, and the proportion with an antibody response. We will also collect detailed information from care homes to try and understand why some have had outbreaks and others have not. Taken together, this information will be used to inform the pandemic response in care homes and protect residents and staff from becoming infected with COVID-19 in the future."
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive, Care England, said: "Care homes are the front line and this opportunity is welcome. This study is absolutely critical if we are to win the battle against COVID-19. There is still so much to learn about this virus; why some care homes have tested positive whilst displaying no symptoms or deaths and others have felt the full force of the brutality of this silent killer. The Government’s study will help us understand the way in which this virus operates thus enabling us to be better prepared today, tomorrow and in the future."
Minister for Care Helen Whately said: "We know care homes are on the frontline of our fight against coronavirus, with the virus affecting older people more acutely than the general population. Not only will this study provide important reassurance to thousands of residents and staff, it will also build our understanding of the rate of infection in care homes and add to our knowledge about the risk factors that mean the virus can affect individuals differently.
"The results of this study will help inform our future plans for managing the pandemic, to protect the public and those who receive care as we work to carefully return to normality."