COVID-19 Study Opens To Volunteers As Pandemic Surges Again In North Texas
Researchers from UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources are looking for volunteers for an ongoing study that will help figure out where the coronavirus is spreading in Dallas-Fort Worth and why it's disproportionately affecting African American and Latino communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse — again. Researchers in North Texas are now looking for volunteers for a study that aims to figure out where the disease is spreading, and who it's hurting the most.
The DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study is a joint project between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources. Focused on Dallas and Tarrant counties, researchers are testing people for past and current coronavirus infection, and surveying them about their particular risk factors.
At first, participation in the study was by invitation only, but Dr. Amit Singal, one of the study's lead researchers, said the response rate was lower than expected. Now, they’re looking for volunteers.
“As we’ve started to see a second wave of COVID-19 in our local community as well as across the state, we recognize that these data are essential to have as soon as possible,” Singal said.
Any adult in Dallas and Tarrant counties can participate, no invitation required.
The project was announced in July, and researchers have tested more than 2,000 people so far. Early data suggest that about 5 in 100 people in Dallas-Fort Worth have been exposed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Singal said.
However, that's not a final conclusion. It could change as COVID-19’s impact changes, and the study grows.
Researchers are looking for about 30,000 participants. They want an accurate picture of how the pandemic is affecting not just the region as a whole, but how it's affecting different racial and socioeconomic groups.
COVID-19 has hit Black and Latino communities particularly hard. Jasmin Tiro, an associate professor of population and data sciences at UT Southwestern, said that the disproportionate impact on people of color is clear, in DFW and around the country.
“They’re more likely to be hospitalized. They are more likely to die from this disease,” Tiro said. “To understand why we are having a higher burden and a more serious burden among our minority communities, we need to have data. That data can only be collected if people participate.”
Singal said he hopes the pool of study participants will reflect the population of Dallas and Tarrant counties. Researchers expect about two-thirds of the 30,000 people being tested and surveyed will come from Black and brown communities.
On top of that, researchers want to test an additional 14,000 essential workers, or people who work jobs that put them at greater risk of infection.
“We have focused on people outside of the healthcare industry and [are] working with other workers from business centers such as retail, restaurants — and one of the industries that we’re particularly interested in are schools,” Singal said.
The overall goal of the study is to fill gaps in data that will help governments make decisions on how to handle the pandemic. Insufficient testing capacity is one problem. Another is the number of symptom-free COVID-19 cases, said Dr. Andrew Masica of Texas Health Resources, another lead investigator on the study.
“Our current understanding of how common COVID-19 is in the DFW area, it’s incomplete,” Masica said. “Typically what gets reported by the health departments and the news releases is evidence of acute infection. Large numbers of individuals may have had COVID-19 or been exposed to it and not have had any symptoms, and must not know it.”
All this information is even more important as COVID-19 surges again in North Texas.
UT Southwestern’s latest COVID-19 analysis found infection rates in North Texas are up among all age groups. It also shows hospitalizations are rising, and predicts a spike in case numbers that will bring Dallas and Tarrant counties back to early August levels, as the weather gets colder and flu season heats up.
The pandemic has already killed more than 17,000 Texans.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.