UT Southwestern, Texas Health Launch Collaborative Study on COVID-19 Prevalence in DFW

Researchers will conduct what is expected to be one of the nation's largest studies on community prevalence of COVID-19

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Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Resources will conduct a study regarding the prevalence of COVID-19 in Texas by testing tens of thousands of people who represent a cross-section of the North Texas population.

According to UT Southwestern, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infected more than 3 million people in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide, resulting in more than 550,000 deaths.

As of Thursday, there have been approximately 230,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas, with nearly 30,000 in Dallas County and more than 16,000 in Tarrant County, UT Southwestern said.

UT Southwestern said that despite the high number of confirmed cases, the prevalence of COVID-19 infections is believed to be underestimated due to a high percentage of asymptomatic people and insufficient testing capacity.

The study by UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources aims to gain a better understanding of how the pandemic has unfolded in Dallas and Tarrant Counties.

According to UT Southwestern, researchers will conduct what is expected to be one of the nation's largest studies on community prevalence of COVID-19.

"The DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study will provide vitally important insights into the distribution and spread of COVID-19 throughout our community," Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern, said. "A deeper understanding of who is most exposed and how the virus is spreading will help policy makers as well as civic and business leaders to formulate effective mitigation and containment strategies and highlight where we have opportunities to improve the health of local communities through equitable public health strategies. We are deeply grateful to all community members and supporters who have committed to help us advance this critical research."

Together, UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources will set up testing sites across both Dallas and Tarrant counties as part of the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study.

The study aims to enroll approximately 45,000 Dallas and Tarrant County residents from various backgrounds and occupations, including those at higher risk for exposure to the virus like grocery store and airline employees.

The study will also test and survey individuals from varying socioeconomic groups, racial backgrounds, and ethnic communities.

Tests will look for active COVID-19 infection or evidence of past infection, and will be followed over time to provide insights into how individuals' immune responses evolve. The tests also aim to determine how hot spots emerge in the community.

"We want to learn more about the disease in every way we can, and the best way to do that is by harnessing the power of our two organizations," Barclay Berdan, CEO of Texas Health, said. "Together, we can conduct scientifically strong research and use the information generated to help with the prevention and treatment of this disease here in DFW as well as for communities throughout the country."

The study will be supported by funds from Dallas County, Tarrant County, and the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Members of the business and philanthropic communities are also helping to fund the study, UT Southwestern said.

"We need to better understand the exposure of COVID-19 in our local communities so we can better intervene, limit its spread, and save lives," Amit Singal, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Population and Data Sciences, said. "Dallas and Tarrant counties are incredibly diverse. We have carefully designed our study to specifically characterize COVID-19 exposure across many of the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups that comprise this region."

According to UT Southwestern, the study will recruit equal numbers of participants from Dallas and Tarrant Counties' three most common racial and ethnic group to analyze the spectrum of COVID-19 related risk factors.

"A major concern about COVID-19 is that the virus impacts certain groups differentially, and that's why we're so committed to this initiative," Andrew Masica, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Reliable Health for Texas Health, said. "We want to use insights from the study to help address these disparities and guide actions to promote health across the diverse population we serve. Conducting this type of participatory research across the extended DFW community is fully aligned with the mission of the UTSW-Texas Health collaboration as a regional health network."

UT Southwestern said a study invitation letter will be mailed to 30,000 randomly selected Dallas and Tarrant county households in selected geographic areas.

The study will also examine the prevalence of COVID-19 infection among occupation groups that are at higher risk of exposure to the virus.

According to UT Southwestern, approximately 14,000 subjects from various industries in Dallas and Tarrant counties will be included in the study for data collection.

"Time is of the essence given the significant impact that COVID has already had on the U.S. population including our local communities in Dallas and Tarrant Counties," Jasmin Tiro, Ph.D., a co-investigator and an associate professor of population and data sciences at UT Southwestern, said. "We are collaborating with many community organizations and leaders to get the word out about this extremely important study and help encourage invited residents to step up and participate. Our goal is to rapidly recruit all participants in five months." 

During the recruitment process for the study, interim data will be analyzed by the study team.

UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources will update stakeholders and government officials in order to help guide policy planning.

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