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The WAshington coronaVirus Exposure Survey (WAVES) is a survey to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state.

The survey enables scientists from UW Medicine and the Washington State Department of Health to determine how many people in Washington have had COVID-19. It will collect information, such as race and ethnicity, to determine COVID-19 risk and burden on different communities within the state.

About 8,000 randomly selected people are completing a survey, nasal swab test and blood test. They will then receive their test results to learn if they previously had or currently have COVID-19. Antibody testing in the blood shows past COVID-19 infection, while nasal swab testing shows current COVID-19 infection.

Initial participants will be invited back up to three times to provide information on infection trends over time.

The survey received support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Pierce County.

Frequently Asked Questions FAQs

These FAQs aim to explain the WAVE survey and answer questions. We plan to provide updates later.

Tell me about the survey.
This is a statewide survey in Washington State to measure the percent of people infected with COVID-19, also known as prevalence, in the state. Over the course of the survey, we will also measure changes in the percent of people who have signs of a previous COVID-19 infection.

How can I join the survey?
We will invite households to take part in the survey. Those who have not been selected cannot join the study. This random sample of the population helps the results of 8,000 people represent all of Washington State.

There are a lot of studies about COVID-19, why is this survey needed?
Many studies measure COVID-19 infection in certain people, such as healthcare workers. This survey chooses participants from among all people in Washington state. It will describe COVID-19 infection among different groups, including by race and ethnic groups.

How will you measure this?
We will measure the percent of people who had COVID-19 by looking at their immune system response. This response will be measured through the presence of antibodies in the blood of 8,000 randomly chosen individuals who participate. We will collect blood samples over three visits over a few months. On the first visit, we will also measure the percent of people who have COVID-19 at the time of our survey by testing for presence of the virus in the nose.

What are antibodies? For how long do they last? Am I safe from getting COVID-19 again if I have antibodies?
The body makes antibodies within a week or two after an infection, and are one of the ways the body fights back. For COVID-19, we’re not sure how long the antibodies will last. From what we know about similar viruses, they probably won’t last a lifetime. We’re hoping they’ll last at least a year or two, and provide some defense against the virus. However, scientists are still learning how long COVID-19 antibodies are present after infection and whether they protect against COVID-19. We hope our survey helps answer some of these questions!

Why can’t you count the number of positive tests in the state to know how many people were infected with COVID-19?
Test results can guide doctors, scientists, and leaders. But they only count people who were referred for testing by a healthcare provider or who have gotten themselves tested. These counts miss people who were unable to get tested or who did not go to get a test because they did not think they had COVID-19. Also, most testing centers provide tests which look at whether the virus is present in the nose or throat. This will miss those who had COVID-19 before. We will detect people who have been infected with COVID-19 in the past.

When did the survey start?
The survey started in May, 2021.

Where can I get tested if I think I might have COVID-19?
For more on testing, including where to get tested in your county, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website
You may also consult your local healthcare provider.

What if I have already been vaccinated?
If invited to the survey, please participate! Gathering antibody information on vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals is key to understanding COVID-19 in our state.

What if my family and I never had COVID-19? Should we participate?
Yes! Participation from all those invited, regardless of COVID-19 status, helps us have a better understanding of the spread of the virus. Also, even if you’ve had no symptoms, an antibody test may reveal a current or past infection. This information could help us learn more about asymptomatic cases.