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December 3, 2020

Johns Hopkins APL and Howard County Partner on Community Serology Study

Image of Sheri Lewis speaking at a press conference held by Howard County Government on Dec. 3

APL’s Sheri Lewis, speaking at a press conference held by Howard County Government on Dec. 3, said “studies to better understand the potential spread of a disease in a timely fashion are critical tools to slow disease spread and save lives. In that vein, APL is eager to utilize the expertise of the Laboratory in our own community.”

Credit: Howard County Government

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, is partnering with the Howard County Government to develop a study that will determine SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in the county population.

The APL-led study will leverage the Laboratory’s expertise in health surveillance and data science to help provide Howard County leadership with a clearer picture of the virus’ spread through the county population. This work will aid data-driven policy decision-making that aims to protect the health of the community.

“We have seen very clearly the importance of good data when it comes to protecting public health,” said Sheri Lewis, a global disease surveillance expert in APL’s National Health Mission Area. “Studies to better understand the potential spread of a disease in a timely fashion are critical tools to slow disease spread and save lives. In that vein, APL is eager to utilize the expertise of the Laboratory in our own community. The added situational awareness of the disease burden can inform county public health decision-making as we all navigate through this pandemic.”

“Howard County is proud to be home to APL and appreciates their partnership and engagement in our community. Thanks to incredible work at APL, Howard County has had a front seat to emerging technology to mitigate the spread of this virus throughout our workplaces, businesses and other public spaces,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “Our strategy to increase serology testing in Howard County can expand our understanding of how COVID-19 has spread through our community and puts us in a better position to make informed decisions moving forward. Our approach has always been data-driven and people-informed, and we will continue to search for innovative and efficient ways to mitigate the spread of this virus and ensure our community is safe and healthy.”

Under this partnership, APL data scientists will assess how the demographics of the county coincide with the spread of SARS-CoV-2. That evaluation, coupled with other available data on COVID-19 infections in the area, will help researchers develop mathematical methods to apply to understanding where the greatest vulnerabilities are in the community, and where best to deploy the serological survey.

The results of this study can inform:

  • Levels of SARS-CoV-2 exposure and immunity in a given neighborhood or city, or in a particular category of workers
  • Identification of populations that might specifically benefit from focused vaccination campaigns
  • Monitoring of antibody-positivity rates over time to help assess government or corporate risk-reduction campaigns
  • Determination of how long antibody levels persist in large populations after infection or vaccination

The Laboratory has decades of experience using data to aid public health officials. In the last 20 years, APL experts and the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) program have revolutionized the way public health professionals in communities across the country access and utilize data in monitoring established patterns of disease progression.

APL’s expertise in this area has also been on full display with the Laboratory’s contributions to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a website that has helped the world better understand and track the COVID-19 pandemic. APL researchers provide essential data collection, curation and aggregation — including important analysis and illustrative visualizations of that data — for the site, which delivers the most accurate information available on the pandemic.

Media contact: Amanda Zrebiec, 240-592-2794, Amanda.Zrebiec@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.