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Health & Wellness

Researchers Seek Volunteers To Study How COVID-19 Is Spreading In Dallas And Tarrant Counties

Medical worker places blood sample from a patient's pricked finger for a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19.
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Instead of rapid testing, researchers plan to use highly sensitive PCR and antibody tests to measure current and past COVID-19 infection as part of the DFW Prevalence study.

The DFW COVID-19 Prevalence study began in summer with 2,000 participants. Researchers hope to enroll another 30,000 Dallas and Tarrant county residents, plus 15,000 front-line workers in essential industries, to help determine how the virus is spreading in the area.

KERA's Sam Baker talked with the study's co-principal investigator Dr. Andrew Masica.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Why open the study to more people?

Because of the surge in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the fact that it appears COVID is going to be present to some degree in our community for the foreseeable future. There's a time-sensitive need to generate these data. So the questions we hope to answer are really going to lead to information on how can we get back to carrying out activities as safely as possible, knowing that it's going to be present to some degree.

County and state officials provide daily updates on coronavirus. Why the need for this study?

The question we want to answer here is how common COVID-19 actually is in the DFW area. To what extent is the disease present in the community? We have data from different cities, New York, Spain, but that's not necessarily applicable to DFW.

Acute infections get reported. But up to 40% of the individuals who have COVID-19 are completely asymptomatic and they may never have been tested. So we're adding antibody testing as a measure of true prevalence in the DFW area. The antibody test is a blood draw, a serological test, and it indicates whether you've had an immunologic response to COVID-19.

More reasons why

One of the main reasons is we need to know who has the infection actively, and also who's had it so that we can better understand the behaviors in terms of modifying risk factors for the disease. And then the other thing is the more active infections you pick up leads to contact tracing and more short term interventions that help prevent the spread to others.

The two other questions we want to answer are why are different communities and demographics harder hit than others? And then lastly, can we identify specific occupational or factors? We want a little bit more specificity so that we can be more directive in terms of our advisements and recommendations.

What the study has found so far

Case rates are going up in DFW. We've also seen an increase in our hospitalization. Hospitalizations are a marker of severity of disease in the community. Those have gone up by over 40% in the past two weeks. The trends are concerning that we're starting to see a second surge in the DFW area.

We also know community engagement is essential in terms of developing strong COVID response and, in particular, outreach to some of those groups that have been underserved and disproportionately impacted by COVID. We're working with community ambassadors and really trying to have a strong outreach to those groups that may have had difficulty with access to testing in the past.

COVID fatigue

The other piece of this is that we know as part of a health system, we know that there's COVID fatigue out there. We know COVID has been very disruptive to the community and individual lives. However, in spite of that fatigue, we're still in the midst of a surge. And, in addition to the behaviors of social distancing hand washing and wearing masks, participation in the research study is one way members of the community can help guide our response collectively.

To volunteer, go to utswmed.org/covidstudy, utswmed.org/estudioCOVID, or call 833-947-2577

RESOURCES:

COVID-19 Prevalence Study

DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study Expands

Large-scale Geographic Seroprevalence Surveys

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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