In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and to prepare for future community health challenges, the START Coalition, an alliance of nonprofit organizations committed to addressing the pandemic, has launched a pilot program to provide communities with data and strategies to implement a coordinated response designed to make spaces safer, interrupt the spread of the virus, and enable people to get back to their lives and livelihoods.
The START Coalition has assembled a nationwide partnership of distinguished experts from academia, healthcare, government, business and technology sectors to design and implement practical and measurable applications for prevention of the spread of COVID-19. The START Coalition will combine its broad-based institutional knowledge on the nature, transmission and prevention of infectious outbreaks and marry it with best practices and on-the-ground expertise of local healthcare leaders and providers. This first-of-its-kind initiative will begin in Oklahoma City and rapidly expand to partner communities across the nation.
In Oklahoma City, the START Coalition’s network includes the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. With their local leadership and medical partnership, START will initiate a program custom-designed for the unique attributes of the Oklahoma City population. Lessons learned and data sharing with state and national partners will be prioritized in the coming days and weeks.
“In Oklahoma City, we have a history of moving swiftly to combat tragedy,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Where others see challenges, we see opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic now gives us the opportunity to work together to pioneer approaches that will save lives and restore our economy.”
“The goal of the START Coalition is to put the power of prevention in the hands of the people,” said Christian Kanady, START Advisory Council member. “Government has an important role to play but our founding partners all agree that partnerships across science, business and technology will catalyze and accelerate the process of making society safe. We don’t have time to wait and we must all leverage our strengths in times of need. That frontline approach to invest is critical in gathering data during a pandemic. Without data, we will continue to live in the unnerving future when disease spreads faster than knowledge.”
The Coalition will bring a complementary testing approach to Oklahoma City to fill an important data gap: an understanding of the extent of COVID-19 including those that are asymptomatic. As the state ramps up its capacity to process the many thousands of tests needed to keep Oklahomans safe, START believes it can help by providing more tests and helping coordinate strategy.
The START Coalition will design and implement an approach that can inform other communities as they combat this disease. The START Coalition includes some of the world’s leading medical researchers. Partners include Harvard Medical School’s Center for Global Health Delivery and experts from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy; additional partners will be announced soon.
“OU is committed to collaboration and innovation, and we are highly enthusiastic about the expertise and capabilities that the START coalition brings to Oklahoma City and beyond,” said Dr. Jason Sanders, Provost of the OU Health Sciences Center. “Our scientists, physicians, and public health experts are already working with START colleagues on contact tracing algorithms, antibody research, and vaccine clinical trials.”
In the coming days, OMRF, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the START Coalition will announce details regarding when and how the program will unfold, with targeted testing to understand hotspots, careful allocation of appropriate tests and ways to support the community.