Mason statistics researchers help plan and analyze a study on COVID-19 prevalence in children in Northern Virginia

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Inova Children’s Hospital, the Virginia Department of Health, and the College of Engineering and Computing joined forces last summer to conduct a COVID-19 antibody study to analyze the incidence of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia’s children.

The overall antibody positive rate in children was 8.5 percent.

Mason’s Department of Statistics experts collaborated in the design of the testing protocol. They also helped analyze the data to determine how many children have had COVID-19.

This was a public service project, says Jiayang Sun, chair of the Department of Statistics and the Bernard J. Dunn Eminent Scholar.  “It is an excellent, comprehensive study that considered multiple factors to systematically assess the seroprevalence in the diverse population of the area’s children. I am pleased with the quality of data and that our statisticians were involved, early, starting in the design stage of a study versus those only after the data had been collected.”

Scott Bruce, an assistant professor of statistics, says, “The timely and valuable findings from this project are due to the outstanding partnership among the healthcare professionals, government agencies, and statistics researchers involved in this project. More efforts like this are needed to produce high-quality data and analysis that will continue to build our understanding of this disease and inform strategies for mitigating the risk of infection among children and between children and adults.”

“We considered multiple factors, including age, living conditions, types of antibody tests, the CDC’s recommendation on orthogonal testing, and the data collection sites, which are correlated with population characteristics,” says Brett Hunter, Mason’s principal investigator for this project and associate chair of the Department of Statistics.

The analysis of blood samples from more than 1,000 children, ages 0 to 19, found:

  • COVID-19 antibodies were found in 8.2 percent of white children, 5.2 percent of black children, 5.7 percent of Asian children, and 16.2 percent of children with multiple racial origins.
  • Children identified as Hispanic ethnicity had a 26.6 percent rate of antibody positivity. 
  • The rate was 13.7 percent in young children (0-5 years), 7.5 percent in school-age (6-10 years), 5.1 percent in early adolescents (11-15 years), and 10.8 percent in older adolescents (16-19 years).
  • The majority (66 percent) of children who had antibodies had no history of symptoms of COVID-19 infection, which highlights the silent or asymptomatic infection in children, and the subsequent risk of transmission of infection to others.

When compared to an adult serology study in Virginia, which reported a COVID-19 antibody positivity rate of 4.4 percent, the pediatric positive rate is nearly double.

“The pediatric serology project unexpectedly found more children were seropositive than we had anticipated,” says Rebecca Levorson, division director for pediatric infectious diseases, Inova Children’s Hospital.  “Most of these children did not have symptoms, which makes it difficult to know who may be infectious and who is not at a specific time.”

“Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population is children, and as they may represent a larger proportion of SARS-CoV-2 disease than we previously thought, we need to recognize that children will continue to be infected with and possibly asymptomatically spread this disease. As we continue to fight this pandemic, we need to consider ways to protect them and others by using the tools we have available to us, including masking, social distancing, and vaccination.”

The project is an example of new grants/projects that can be generated from a collaborative contract/award between the Department of Statistics and the Inova Health System. The contract is based on a parent UL1 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Transitional Sciences Award (CTSA) to develop new research to improve the health of individuals and the public. 

Researchers in the statistics department also worked on several other COVID-related studies, Sun says. The researchers want to provide good data that can be used for the public good, as the theme of 2020 Joint Statistical Meetings advocated.


More information about this pediatric serology project can be found at