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Spotlight On: CDC COVID-19 Research

CDC COVID-19 Research Studies

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, data for decision-making have been needed by public health practitioners worldwide. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plays a critical role in combatting the pandemic and conducting research. CDC’s real-time surveillance of COVID-19 cases and analyses of surveillance data inform public health policies, communication about protective behaviors, and guidance to public health and healthcare providers, communities, businesses, and schools.

This need continues today, but early in the pandemic CDC urgently required research data to inform the COVID-19 response, especially related to risk and protective factors across key population groups. They included healthcare personnel, first responders, and essential workers; pregnant women and infants; individuals 50 years and older; older adults in continuting care retirement communities; and households. 

covid methods


From the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abt supported a variety of CDC COVID-19 research initiatives. Since 2013 under a contract with CDC, Abt managed an infrastructure of clinical health organizations set up to conduct network studies to assess risk and characterize disease epidemiology of novel influenza or other novel respiratory viruses among different population cohorts. Abt recognized that it could pivot and use this infrastructure to perform these tasks for COVID-19. Abt has significant experience with the approaches needed to provide the studies and data CDC required. They include:

  • Study design
  • Data collection and coordination
  • Data management, cleaning, and analytic file preparation
  • Specimen collection, processing, and testing
  • Technical assistance and training
  • Project management

In addition, under a separate contract, Abt provided staff to the CDC’s COVID-19 Epidemiology Task Force. The CDC Epidemiology Task Force was responsible for identifying and tracking COVID-19 cases, spread, and containment and was critical to accomplishing CDC’s mission and goals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

covid research


Studying cohorts with different characteristics and vulnerabilities is critical to understanding how an infectious disease spreads and affects the human population. It’s especially important for monitoring vaccine safety and effectiveness. Our infectious diseases and clinical research experts have led COVID-19 cohort studies with CDC and partners to assess:

  • household transmission
  • transmissibility of infection
  • rates of infection and illness
  • clinical epidemiology of the disease
  • characteristics of medically and non-medically attended cases.

Dive into the Abt team’s six cohort studies below. 

covid epidemiology

Research on the Epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in Essential Response personnel (RECOVER) Study

The RECOVER study was a prospective, longitudinal cohort study of approximately 3,000 healthcare personnel, first responders, and essential workers from six U.S. geographies. This research offered CDC timely information on COVID-19 illness characterization and correlates of protection in this highly-exposed cohort. The research also provided rates of asymptomatic infection and re-infection and estimates of vaccine effectiveness for the COVID-19 vaccines against different variants. Data collection started in July 2020 and continued through June 2023.

Read More About the Research:

covid pregnancy

Epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in Pregnancy and Infancy (ESPI) Network Study

Pregnant women may be more vulnerable to respiratory infections and severe respiratory complications, and more research is needed on potential effects of these on birth outcomes. ESPI leveraged an existing network of sites and protocols from the CDC Pandemic Flu and Global Flu contracts to conduct two separate cohort studies among pregnant women. Findings from this study provided timely information for CDC on the risk factors for infection and characteristics of COVID-19 illness and complications, as well as the effects of infection on pregnancy and infant outcomes. A better understanding of this burden may help inform future public health policy regarding pregnant women, young infants, and COVID-19.

Read More About the Research:

covid geisinger study

Geisinger Electronic Cohort Study and Geisinger Prospective Case-Control Study

Older adults are at high risk for contracting novel coronavirus and for developing severe COVID-19 illness if infected. This study consisted of two activities:

  • an electronic cohort that used electronic medical record extraction to monitor and describe medical care for hospitalized patients aged ≥50 years old in a rural health care system.
  • prospective enrollment and follow-up of a subset of test-positive study participants and matched test-negative controls who were admitted to inpatient care and tested for novel coronavirus.

The study examined serologic indicators of infection, correlates of protection, and patterns of medical care and health outcomes among three age groups (50-64 years, 65-79 years, 80+ years old).

covid retirement

COVID-19 Illness and Testing among Retirement Communities in the US (CITRUS) Cohort Study

Older adults are among those with the highest risk for medically attended COVID-19. Characterization of risk factors and clinical epidemiology of COVID-19 among older adults may inform public health strategies to prevent infection and reduce the burden of severe disease in this population. Within participating retirement communities, the CITRUS project enrolled nearly 300 residents from different resident groups (independent living homes and assisted living facilities). Active surveillance captured COVID-19 cases among both symptomatic and asymptomatic participants. The primary objectives of the CITRUS cohort were to: 1) estimate the cumulative incidence of asymptomatic and symptomatic infection in community-dwelling older adults in the US; and 2) establish kinetics of immunity over time. Secondary objectives included describing illness severity, risk factors for infection, healthcare utilization, and immune response to vaccination and vaccine effectiveness when the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines became available.

covid household

Coronavirus Household Evaluation and Respiratory Testing (C-HEaRT) Cohort Study

Household studies offer researchers a unique opportunity to capture illnesses among individuals who do not seek medical care. These studies allow for a better understanding of the true burden of disease and other characteristics of the illness. C-HEaRT adapted existing methodologies used during influenza pandemics to assess epidemiological and clinical characteristics of COVID-19. They included incidence, risk of transmission and infection, illness progression, clinical characteristics of severity, modifying behaviors, serum biomarkers, and other characteristics. Findings from this study supported CDC’s role during a pandemic for monitoring pandemic-related illness, describing the epidemiology of pandemic virus infection and the burden of disease, and monitoring and evaluating the use of public health interventions, antiviral treatment, and vaccine effectiveness.

In addition to C-HEaRT, Abt led data management-related activities for its sister study, SARS-CoV-2 Epidemiology And Response in Children (SEARCh), which was led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Read More About the Research:

covid pediatric

Pediatric Research Observing Trends and Exposures in COVID-19 Timelines (PROTECT) Study

The PROTECT study was a longitudinal pediatric cohort study that evaluated COVID-19 vaccines’ real-world effectiveness in 2,300 U.S. children in four geographies. The study provided ongoing estimates of COVID-19 vaccines’ real-world effectiveness (including boosters and additional doses) in children aged 6 months to 17 years as vaccine products were authorized for certain pediatric populations. In addition, the study monitored the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza infection in this pediatric population. Data collection began in July 2021 and continued through May 2023.

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Contact Us

Contact Us

danielle rentz hunt

Danielle Rentz Hunt, Ph.D.

Vice President, Public Health

Division of Health & Environment
Atlanta, GA
(404) 946-6305

Learn more about our COVID projects focused on surveillance, long-term COVID, and nursing homes.

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