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How a consulting firm that's worked for Disney and Google repurposed its consumer research to help test people for COVID-19

LA County testing
  • LRW Group, a consulting firm that has worked with Disney, Facebook, Google, and more, used its consumer sentiment research approach to work on a public health project to test people for COVID-19 antibodies.
  • Their results found that the virus was far more widespread but also less fatal than previously thought.
  • LRW Group president Jeff Reynolds said he hoped the work can help depoliticize the pandemic numbers. His firm is now working with other counties on their testing efforts.
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In mid-April, Los Angeles tried to understand the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic by asking hundreds of residents to get drive-through blood tests.
The results found that estimated infection rates were "28 to 55 times higher" than the number of officially reported cases, but that the virus was also probably much less fatal than previously thought.
These tests were the product of an unusual collaboration between the LA County Department of Public Health, the University of Southern California, and 50-year-old consulting firm LRW Group.

The firm applied the same approach to testing for COVID-19 that it used to figure out whether customers like new cleaning products

LRW Group is best known for consumer sentiment research that clients like Google, Facebook, Disney, and Starbucks never publicize.
For example, when an auto company wants to let people test drive a new model and weigh in, or a household goods company needs to see how consumers respond to the smell of a new fabric softener, they often hire LRW Group's consumer research division SoapBoxSample, according to president Jeff Reynolds.
Reynolds said LRW Group drew from a database that included years of consumer research involving "15-20% of adults in LA County" to conduct the COVID-19 study.
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They chose six locations for drive-through blood testing facilities, contacted hundreds of people in a small radius of each spot via email or phone, and gave them a 15-question public opinion test asking for demographic information along with their own assessments of symptoms or potential exposure to COVID-19.
More than 1,700 people agreed to the test and 865 eventually received it.

The project helped guide testing strategies for Los Angeles and Orange County, California

Based on 35 positive antibody results, researchers estimated that about 4.1% of LA residents had been infected. And while that rate was considerably higher than the 8,400 reported cases, it was nowhere near New York City, where an estimated 21% of people had antibodies.
Neeraj Sood, vice dean for research at USC's Price School of Public Policy and lead researcher on the study, wrote that its results showed officials should "recalibrate disease prediction models and rethink public health strategies" by testing randomly to cover asymptomatic carriers rather than focusing on those who had already reported symptoms.
Reynolds said he was confident the work would stand up to scrutiny, and he co-wrote a peer-reviewed version published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on May 18.
Researchers did point out that the study was small and selection bias likely because people with symptoms may have been more likely to participate.
But they said further testing is needed, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has offered unlimited tests. Since April, LRW Group has conducted more such tests with USC and the Department of Public Health, and the firm is completing a larger round in neighboring Orange County.
Reynolds said the data has huge importance because it shows how many Americans may have transmitted the virus without their knowledge while also implying that the fatality rate could be closer to 0.3% than 3%.
The numbers remain frightening, he said, and "there's no easy 'thank goodness' conclusion."

LRW Group said the project is an effort to depoliticize the pandemic

Several weeks ago, LA County chief science officer Dr. Paul Simon connected LRW Group CEO David Sackman to Sood, who had just received 2,500 antibody tests but didn't have the money to conduct rapid tests.
"It was a two-minute conversation: 'We're going to do this,'" said Reynolds.
LRW Group went on to provide partial funding along with USC's Schwarzenegger Institute and other parties.
Reynolds said this sort of work is not core to his business and the firm didn't see it as a PR play, though they have received more press mentions than usual over the past month.
Instead, he calls it a personal project and hopes it can help depoliticize the science behind the pandemic response as America determines how and when to return to public life.
"This is about the governed and the governing figuring out how to live, which will always be political," he said. "There will be hard questions."
SEE ALSO: Leaked documents show advertising giant IPG doesn't know when furloughs will end and can't promise it will bring back affected staff to full employment
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* This article was originally published here
https://www.businessinsider.com/lrw-group-helped-develop-las-covid-19-testing-strategy-2020-5
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