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DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study addresses gaps in local data

Woman in mask holding clipboard talking to person in UTSW shirt
Prevalence Study co-Investigator Dr. Jasmin Tiro (left) chats with UT Southwestern Public Affairs Manager Corey Tovian as they collected volunteers for the study in September.

As COVID-19 cases have continued to surge in recent months, the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study is providing vital information to help policymakers, business and civic leaders, and the general public make smart, informed decisions to help contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

This research effort, led by UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources, began as a targeted study of 45,000 select participants, with a goal to understand how many people actually are or have been infected in our local North Texas community and to help develop effective and fair public health strategies to reduce any further deaths related to this disease.

The Prevalence Study has since expanded to allow anyone living in Dallas or Tarrant counties to participate via a brief survey online or by phone. Based on responses to the survey questions, some individuals may be selected for further testing to determine if they have COVID-19 or have previously been infected.

“Understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community is critical to addressing the most challenging public health crisis of our time,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “The DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study is designed to answer key questions about how our North Texas communities are being affected to provide policymakers with information needed to most effectively deploy mitigation strategies. We are extremely grateful for the public and private support that is making this vital work possible.”

Dr. Amit Singal, Professor of Internal Medicine and Population and Data Sciences at UT Southwestern and the project’s Principal Investigator, has seen a groundswell of interest from community participants.

“The large dataset from an anticipated 30,000 community volunteers – in addition to a targeted set of 14,000 front-line workers representing essential organizations like schools and retail stores – will address current gaps in local data,” said Dr. Singal, a 2013 graduate of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “Our study seeks critical answers we still don’t have, including how many in the community have been infected with COVID-19 and why some communities are being harder hit.”

Dr. Andrew Masica, Chief Medical Officer of Reliable Health for Texas Health and the study’s co-Principal Investigator, explained that while important strides are being made in modeling and predicting COVID-19 surges, this data is mostly based on acute, or symptomatic, infections. “We still need to understand how many people may have had mild or no symptoms and were never tested but still had the infection,” said Dr. Masica. “We also need to understand why the disease spreads more in some communities than others. Participation in this study is one way that individuals can help influence the DFW-area response to COVID-19.”   

To this end, volunteer participants from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds are needed in order to maximize the study’s impact. Investigators are particularly interested in understanding how COVID-19 has impacted Black and Hispanic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

Dr. Jasmin Tiro, a study co-Investigator and Associate Professor of Population and Data Sciences at UT Southwestern, echoed Dr. Masica’s call for a greater cross-section of volunteers in order to grasp the full scope of the virus’s spread.

“We have the questions,” said Dr. Tiro, “but our community holds the key. And we need as many participants as possible to help us unlock those answers.”

Anyone residing in Dallas or Tarrant counties can participate. To volunteer, go to utswmed.org/covidstudy.

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