SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Health & Science University is working on a new approach to studying the spread of COVID-19 after health-care experts from the state’s communities of color raised concerns that the original project’s design was flawed by racial biases.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the Key to Oregon study, a project by Oregon Health & Sciences University and the Oregon Health Authority, aims to survey 100,000 Oregonians and monitor them for COVID-19. One of the original goals was to recruit large numbers of participants from communities of color, to help identify outbreaks in those areas.

But critics said the study would recruit few, if any, communities of color, because of flaws in the study design. They said those flaws could have been avoided if experts from communities of color had been included from the beginning.

“We are prepared to include community leaders at every level of study, from leadership to study design, and shared decision making,” said David Bangsberg, dean of the school of public health that’s jointly run by OHSU and Portland State University.

The decision to redesign the study came after several community leaders wrote to OHSU detailing their concerns. After several listening sessions, OHSU agreed to integrate experts from community organizations at all levels of the study, and late last week they held the first in a series of meetings aimed at re-centering equity and including communities as they rebuild much of the study from the ground up.

Another change will be that there will be reimbursement for work.


“We recognize that everyone we talked to is engaged in really important and essential work. To ask people to do more requires us to compensate people for their time,” Bangsberg said.

The study — which has a budget of $24 million — was already underway. Recruitment had already begun. And with COVID-19 cases in Oregon increasing, particularly among Latino and Black people, time completing the study as soon as possible will better-inform policies and strategies to slow its spread within communities of color.

OHSU says it plans to move forward with anyone who has already agreed to enroll in the study, while it works on building engagement in communities of color.