At-home testing to mitigate community transmission of SARS-CoV-2: protocol for a public health intervention with a nested prospective cohort study


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to evolve as a global health crisis. Although highly effective vaccines have been developed, non-pharmaceutical interventions remain critical to controlling disease transmission. One such intervention—rapid, at-home antigen self-testing—can ease the burden associated with facility-based testing programs and improve testing access in high-risk communities. However, its impact on SARS-CoV-2 community transmission has yet to be definitively evaluated, and the socio-behavioral aspects of testing in underserved populations remain unknown. Methods: As part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics–Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program funded by the National Institutes of Health, we are implementing a public health intervention titled “Say Yes! COVID Test” (SYCT) involving at-home self-testing using a SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen assay in North Carolina (Greenville, Pitt County) and Tennessee (Chattanooga City, Hamilton County). The intervention is supported by a multifaceted communication and community engagement strategy to ensure widespread awareness and uptake, particularly in marginalized communities. Participants receive test kits either through online orders or via local community distribution partners. To assess the impact of this intervention on SARS-CoV-2 transmission, we will conduct a non-randomized, ecological study using community-level outcomes. Specifically, we will evaluate trends in SARS-CoV-2 cases and hospitalizations, SARS-CoV-2 viral load in wastewater, and population mobility in each community before, during, and after the SYCT intervention. Individuals who choose to participate in SYCT will also have the option to enroll in an embedded prospective cohort substudy gathering participant-level data to evaluate behavioral determinants of at-home self-testing and socio-behavioral mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 community transmission. Discussion: This is the first large-scale, public health intervention implementing rapid, at-home SARS-CoV-2 self-testing in the United States. The program consists of a novel combination of an at-home testing program, a broad communications and community engagement strategy, an ecological study to assess impact, and a research substudy of the behavioral aspects of testing. The findings from the SYCT project will provide insights into innovative methods to mitigate viral transmission, advance the science of public health communications and community engagement, and evaluate emerging, novel assessments of community transmission of disease.

Publication Title

BMC Public Health