COLUMBIA, Mo. – More than 1,600 students at the University of Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year and now Mizzou is asking students to give blood to test for antibodies.
The university is asking students, faculty, and staff to complete a COVID behavioral risk survey and then, if living in the Columbia, Boone County area, give blood to test for antibodies.
The goal of this research is to see how the campus is responding to the virus, how long antibodies last, and possibly help create a vaccine.
Since September, Mizzou researchers like Dr. Enid Schatz have been looking at how COVID has affected the campus community.
“I don’t think we can just get back to normal until we really understand what it is, where those mitigations parameters are,” Schatz said. “I think it’s really important for the university to be making decisions based on data.”
Schatz’s background is in HIV work in southern and eastern Africa. She studies aging and HIV and how the older population is affected.
“My take on COVID is that it is very similar to HIV, especially in the early years of HIV. There wasn’t a cure, there wasn’t a way to test, and it didn’t necessarily do that much other than maybe help you protect others, but it didn’t change your own ability of you to take care of yourself,” Schatz said.
Schatz is finding out how the university has a grasp on the virus with a survey.
“It asks them questions about their behaviors, about their perceptions about COVID and their trust in institutions,” Schatz said.
The 22-page survey was originally sent to 3,000 people at the university and it asks questions like, “How concerned are you about COVID-19 spreading due to your own actions” and “What are the chances you’ve already had COVID-19?”
“I think that’s one of the things that’s becoming very obvious from our research and other research that is happening among college students in particular, but I think in the general public as well, is that this disease, although it’s really a physical thing is impacting our lives in such great ways that it’s having a major impact on mental health.”
Schatz said this survey has shown more people need mental health resources and now the university has been able to pass along resources.
Another part of this study is giving blood.
“So when you submit to having your blood drawn, what the lab is looking for, the research lab, is antibodies in your blood to COVID which would indicate you’ve been exposed to the virus,” said researcher Dr. John Middleton. “That’s actually one of the questions in the study, how long do the antibodies last?”
Middleton said this study could help create a vaccine to fight off the virus.
“But it will help us understand the host, which in this case is a person, responds to the virus therefore will give us insight to the immune response and there using those insights, you can then maybe design a better vaccine,” Middleton said.
Middleton has been a livestock health veterinarian for 27 years with expertise in population medicine, like COVID.
“We’ve been dealing with coronavirus that causes diarrhea in cows for many, many years,” Middleton said. “Wearing masks helps reduce transmission, keeping people apart from each other also reduces transmission.”
He works with advisors to the chancellor to help the university understand what’s going on with COVID.
“We’re going to look at people that have been confirmed to have COVID and then they are going to follow them for several months after that known positive test result to see how long the antibody last,” Middleton said.
Middleton said of the 180 people who have completed the survey and given blood, about 8 percent of them have shown antibodies in their blood.
Schatz said nearly 50 more people are scheduled to give blood within the next week.