George Mason University
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George Mason University

Mason statistics researchers analyzing COVID-19 incidence in children in Northern Virginia

September 22, 2020   /   by Nanci Hellmich

Jiayang Sun, chair of Mason Engineering’s Department of Statistics, wants to put the department in the department in the national spotlight for statistical research and data science.

Jiayang Sun, chair of Mason Engineering’s Department of Statistics, and other faculty in the department are working with experts from Inova Children’s Hospital on a project that is evaluating the incidence of COVID-19 in children in Northern Virginia.

Mason Engineering researchers are joining forces with Inova Children’s Hospital for a project that will provide valuable data about the incidence of COVID-19 in children in Northern Virginia to school administrators and other decision-makers in the area.

Inova researchers—including Rebecca Levorson, division director for Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Inova Children’s Hospital, and Christopher deFilippi, vice chair of academic affairs at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute—are recruiting 1,000 children to get an antibody blood test, also called a serology test, to see if the kids have had COVID-19 and understand better the etiology of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia. The project is supported by the Virginia Department of Health.

Mason’s Department of Statistics experts collaborated in the design of the testing protocol. They will also help analyze the data to determine how many children have had COVID-19 and identify risk factors that are correlated with a higher infection rate.

“It’s a public service project,” says Jiayang Sun, chair of the Department of Statistics and the Bernard J. Dunn Eminent Scholar.  “This project will give us excellent information to assess the seroprevalence in our population, which will give administrators and policymakers useful information to decide how to open up schools.”

The volunteer participants are being recruited from Inova Children’s Hospital pediatric locations, emergency rooms, and other outreach means in Northern Virginia.

Assistant professor Scott Bruce is working on the design and analysis of the COVID-19 project.

Statistics Assistant Professor Brett Hunter is the statistics department's principal investigator on the project.

“It’s collecting essential data to better understand seroprevalence (COVID-19 antibodies in the blood) in kids from our local community,” says Scott Bruce, an assistant professor of statistics. “We are trying to balance the speed of the project with getting a good, diverse representative sample.”

“Early estimates suggest that positive test cases in kids are rare, but we want to make sure that’s true,” says statistics Assistant Professor Brett Hunter, Mason’s principal investigator for this project. “We don’t want to expose them more than necessary before we know what the risks are.”

The researchers have a tight deadline with about two months to complete the work.

The project is an example of new grants/projects that can be generated from a collaborative contract/award between the Department of Statistics and 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 are working 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 advocates.

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