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Evelyn Ortiz is a very social person. That makes volunteering as a Participant Ambassador for the All of Us Research Program a great fit for her. But it means that coping with the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult. “It's hard not being able to go outside and talk to people about the program,” Evelyn says. “Little by little, I have had to adapt to this new reality.”
As a volunteer, Evelyn reaches out to the Hispanic and Latino community in Manhattan, New York. “I’ve really only had to stop my day-to-day activities,” she says. “But unfortunately, others here haven’t been so lucky.”
September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. This year, it comes during a difficult time. The pandemic has had an outsized impact on the Hispanic and Latino community in the United States. Hispanics make up about 17% of the U.S. population. But about 33% of people who have had COVID-19 are Hispanic.
Economic and social conditions are one reason why. Many people in the Hispanic and Latino community are essential workers. That means they are more likely to be exposed to the virus. In addition, says Cecilia Rosales, M.D., M.S., many of them live with family members from multiple generations. Dr. Rosales is a doctor and researcher. She has worked with the Hispanic and Latino community for more than 30 years. Her work focuses on health issues around the border between the United States and Mexico. Now, she brings that experience to her role as a leader for All of Us at the University of Arizona/Banner Health. “People are constantly getting sick, because they need to go out and work,” she says. For many, “social distancing is just not possible. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Getting health care can also be difficult for members of this community. People may not get treatment for COVID-19 until they are very sick. And a lack of health care contributes to other health disparities, too.
Christian Ramirez Martinez, M.D., believes that precision medicine is one key to ending these types of health disparities. Precision medicine is health care that is based on you as an individual. It takes into account things like where you live, what you do, your genes, and your family health history. Advancing precision medicine will require research that includes people from all backgrounds. Hispanic and Latino communities have not always been included in research in the past. All of Us is committed to changing that. And we couldn’t do it without the Hispanic and Latino communities that are part of the program.
The chance to advance precision medicine is one reason Dr. Ramirez wanted to be part of All of Us. “Moments like these highlight the importance of precision medicine,” he says. Dr. Ramirez joined the All of Us team at Columbia University as a research assistant in 2017. Now, he leads enrollment for All of Us at Columbia.
All of Us paused in-person activities in March 2020. “We have had to be creative to connect with people,” Dr. Ramirez says. The team now makes phone calls and sends emails to get in touch with participants. Team members help participants complete program activities, like filling out surveys. They also check in to see how participants are doing. And people can still sign up online to join All of Us.
These new methods are helping. But for Evelyn, the Participant Ambassador, meeting in person was the best way to talk to people about All of Us. Evelyn looks forward to getting back into the community when it’s safe. In the meantime, she recalls what she likes about her work. “When I was talking to people about the program, they were excited to learn about it themselves. And they were excited because they knew they could contribute to their community,” she says. “Hispanics are supportive of each other.” It’s a difficult time. But that supportive spirit helps Evelyn stay motivated.
When times are stressful, exercise can be a great way to cope. Did you know that exercising even once can boost your mood and help you sleep better? And that’s in addition to all the health benefits of exercising regularly. Being active can lower your risk for some health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. It can help with blood pressure control. And it’s good for your mental health.
Right now, social distancing guidelines might mean that you can’t go to the gym or play some sports. But you can still find ways to get active! Here are a few ideas to try:
This Activity Planner from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can help you make a weekly plan. Use the planner to choose activities and get tips to stay motivated. And learn more about coping with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antibodies are one way your body fights infection. When you get a virus or a bacterial infection, your immune system makes antibodies. Some antibodies can stay in your blood for a long time. They can keep you from getting the same illness—such as chickenpox—a second time. Other antibodies fade away more quickly.
The body makes different antibodies for different infections. That means that testing for antibodies can show whether you’ve had a particular disease before. And that’s why researchers are interested in antibody testing for COVID-19.
An antibody test is different from the cotton swab test to find out whether someone currently has the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test is a blood test. If a person is infected now, an antibody test might not show that, but it may show whether the person was infected in the past.
That’s especially important for COVID-19. Many people who are infected don’t have any symptoms. They might not be tested while they have the virus. Antibody testing may help researchers learn about how the virus spreads, whether efforts to stop the spread have worked, and what to do in the future.
COVID-19 antibody testing may have other uses in the future. We don’t yet know whether having COVID-19 antibodies means that that they will always be in your blood or that you can’t get the disease again. Also, it might be possible to use blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to make a treatment for people who are sick. In that case, antibody testing could identify people who could donate blood.
All of Us has a unique opportunity to study COVID-19 through antibody testing. That’s because our participants provide blood samples when they join the program. We’re conducting antibody testing on some of those samples, starting with samples from March 2020. Those are the most recent samples we have, because we paused in-person enrollment in March to keep our participants and our team safe. From there, we’ll work backwards until we stop finding positive tests. The testing may help researchers better understand how exposure to the virus has affected diverse groups differently across the United States. It may also help show when and where the virus appeared in the country. That information could help researchers better understand pandemics.
Learn more about the All of Us antibody testing project.
Getting Ready for DNA Results
All of Us has started analyzing DNA! We’re starting with a small batch of participant samples, and we’ll gradually ramp up DNA processing. This means we’re one step closer to being able to provide DNA results to our participants.
Before we can return DNA results, we’re making sure that our participants know what DNA analysis means for them. You might have received an email, text, letter, or phone call from us. Those messages ask you to log in to your All of Us account to view additional information and complete the Consent to Receive DNA Results. Answer “yes” to that consent if you want any DNA results from us in the future. If you’ve already done this, thank you! If not, we’ll be in touch. You don’t have to wait for us, though. You can log in to your All of Us account and complete the consent today.
NIH Aims to Speed Up COVID-19 Research
We all want to find ways to prevent and treat COVID-19. One way to help is by taking part in clinical trials. A new effort at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives people the chance to do just that. The COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) connects volunteers with clinical trials. NIH wants to make sure that treatments and vaccines work for everyone, so it’s important for clinical trials to include people from different backgrounds. CoVPN’s goal is to speed up research on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
All of Us and CoVPN are separate programs. We’re sharing information about CoVPN because we are committed to making sure that people from all backgrounds are included in health research. To learn more about CoVPN or register to volunteer, visit the Coronavirus Prevention Network.
To learn more about NIH work on COVID-19, visit the NIH COVID-19 community webpage.
PregSource®: A Research Opportunity for Pregnant Women
PregSource® is a research project that aims to help NIH learn from women about what it’s like to experience pregnancy and motherhood. It’s the largest research project on pregnancy in the United States. If you’re pregnant, joining PregSource® and sharing your experiences throughout your pregnancy is one small step that may help deliver better care and better outcomes for moms and babies in the future. To learn more, visit PregSource.
# of participants who have completed COPE surveys
# of participants who have completed the consent process
# of participants fully enrolled*
*Fully enrolled participants are those who have shared their health information with All of Us, including giving blood and urine or saliva samples.
Note: All of Us has paused in-person enrollment and other events to protect public health and limit the spread of COVID-19. You can still sign up and participate online at JoinAllofUs.org.