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At the heart of the COVID-19 task force

On April 9, 2O2O, the COVID-19 task force launched the CON-VINCE scientific study with the aim of evaluating the spread of COVID-19 infection in the Luxembourg population. The study looked at people with few or no symptoms. A representative sample of no less than 1,800 people answered a questionnaire, underwent a nasal and oropharyngeal swab followed by PCR-based virus test and ELISA-based serology tests. Psychologist and Associate professor in Public Health and Aging at the University of Luxembourg, Anja Leist joined the research team. Today she shares her experience at the heart of the COVID-19 task force.

Why did you join the CON-VINCE research group ?

Prof. Rejko Krueger, as Director of Transversal Translational Medicine (TTM), and as PI in charge of the realization of the CON-VINCE study, required my expertise and I was really interested in the project. I first contributed to the study questions that aim to assess the psychological impact of quarantine. Luxembourg being such a multilingual country, it wasn’t an easy task. The questionnaire was available in 4 languages and psychological measures needed to assess the same constructs, for example depression, similarly in each of the languages. Today, I’m a member of the executive committee.

How was this experience different than your ongoing ERC project CRISP
(Cognitive Aging: From Educational Opportunities to Individual Risk Profiles) ?

We had the opportunity to collect the data at the very beginning of the pandemic. We started right away with a representative sample of the population of Luxembourg. Due to the emergency to collect data on the spread of the virus, we quickly received the funding (National Research Fund Luxembourg and André Losch Foundation) and ethical approval of the project. This was a real facilitator much appreciated.
The interdisciplinarity of the people, (from fundamental research to clinical practice) working on CON-VINCE is also a great added value. We could easily bridge the disciplinary gap by our joint interest in trying to understand the virus prevalence and the impact of the confinement measures.

The first report is now out. What are the findings concerning the psychological impact of confinement?

The first report assessed the prevalence of the virus. Over the last months, we additionally looked at the psychological measures in more depth. I was really curious and interested about in the data we collected. We never experienced such quarantine that happens universally. We looked into the 60+ population and realized that the effect of quarantine was not as bad as we would have thought. This doesn’t mean that people didn’t suffer. Some individuals did have a really hard time. But as a group, they didn’t show more signs of depression than usual for example. In Luxembourg, people felt safe. The fact that older people were being protected because of their vulnerability showed their value to society. We noticed that also other population groups, like health care providers, were managing the stress caused by the pandemic quite well.

What about the socio-economic impact?

From other sources, we know that the Luxembourg residents were fortunate on that level as well up to now. The socio-economic impacts were buffered by the government policy to support businesses with partial unemployment measures. Parents were also supported with the ability to stay employed while taking care of their children at home due to the school lockdown. Nevertheless, individuals that are lower on the social ladder were more impacted by the crisis, and the economic forecasts foresee a rise in unemployment, even if Luxembourg will probably better cope than many other European countries.

Did you come with specific recommendations?

When the pandemic first raised, we thought it might be interesting to offer individual extra health support. It’s a system that‘s already in place during heat waves for example. People who want can ask for assistance and someone check on them. But for now, it doesn’t seem necessary to do so. The only thing we would recommend, would be more for family doctors. Now that most consultations are mostly done through phone calls, it would be helpful to check for depression indicators. It’s harder to grasp when not face to face with a patient. A simple question could be enough and helpful. I believe many doctors already do it.

Now that the first data collection is done and the first results published, what comes next?

We plan on a 1 year follow-up will be done to see how it evolves. The crisis isn’t over yet and we keep an eye on the situation. If something alerts us, we’ll advise policy makers. We also constantly search for new collaboration opportunities, and several have been initiated already. I’m glad that I could free some time to be part of the CON-VINCE project. It’s a very interesting experience as a researcher to be at the heart of such an event.

 

picture © Philippe Reuter.

People related to this project

Anja
Leist
Behavioural & Cognitive Sciences
Social Sciences
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