Tracking Covert Infections

Researchers and medical staff collaborate to detect asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 on campus.

June 15, 2020
COVID-19 Swab
COVID-19 Swab

In an effort to study the potential spread of COVID-19 among its students, faculty and staff, UC Santa Barbara is piloting a research surveillance testing program, with a focus on members of the campus community who are asymptomatic for the novel coronavirus. The volunteer study is a collaboration between UCSB Student Health; the researchers who have developed a CRISPR-based SARS-COV-2 detection system they call CREST (Cas13-based, Rugged, Equitable, Scalable Testing); and clinicians at Cottage Health System and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. Up to 1,500 people will be tested over the coming weeks. “The presence of the virus in the respiratory tract of individuals with no symptoms, or atypical symptoms of COVID-19 has been well documented,” said MCDB researcher Carolina Arias, who with colleagues Kenneth S. Kosik, Diego Acosta-Alvear and Max Wilson developed the CREST assay. “The asymptomatic carriers can inadvertently transmit the virus to others, increasing the potential of covert outbreaks. Surveillance testing will allow us to detect these cases early and take preventive measures to protect our community.”