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Team to Examine Strategies to Increase COVID-19 Testing Rates


A team involving two CHIBE members—CHIBE Associate Director Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, and Message Effects Lab Director Jessica Fishman, PhD—has been awarded NIH funding to test strategies to increase COVID-19 testing rates. The other team members are Cedric Bien-Gund, MD; and Robert Gross, MD, MSCE, both from the Perelman School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

To their knowledge, this group is the first to implement or test whether secondary distribution of COVID-19 self-tests by individuals to others in their social networks can promote SARS-CoV-2 testing. Their recent JAMA Network Open paper found high motivation to distribute COVID-19 self-test kits and to use self-test kits.

In addition, this team will leverage the Message Effects Lab — jointly supported by the Annenberg School for Communication and the Perelman School of Medicine — to design communication-based interventions that use message effects to influence if and when people decide to test. (Read more about the lab in this Penn Today article.) They will be paying particular focus to underserved populations, considering the disproportionate impact COVID has had on minority groups.

They approach this project with experience implementing secondary distribution of HIV self-test kits within social networks. See previous work here: Promoting Male Partner Testing and Safer Sexual Decision-making through Secondary Distribution of HIV Self-tests by HIV-uninfected Female Sex Workers and Women Receiving Antenatal and Postpartum Care in Kenya: A Cohort Study and Promoting Partner Testing and Couples Testing through Secondary Distribution of HIV Self-Tests: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Find previous work on designing effective public health campaigns to change behavior and fight infectious disease here: Parent and Adolescent Knowledge of HPV and Subsequent Vaccination.”