By Ashley Moss
Eight months after the first emergency order was issued for Dallas, positive cases for COVID-19 have risen sharply across the state. The numbers show a need for continued vigilance, Dallas’s COVID czar Dr. Kelvin Baggett said, calling the virus “profoundly deadly”.
“We have taken actions to ensure the health and safety of our city,” said Dr. Baggett. “But we need to do more to reduce the burden on healthcare workers and the hospital treatment capacity in order to look forward to a time when we can all look forward to a vaccine.”
The recent surge has prompted the City of Dallas to invest $500,000 towards an ongoing prevalence study by UT Southwestern Medical Center. The study was originally launched in the summer as an invitation-only initiative, but was expanded this fall after the initial response rate was lower than hoped.
“We saw what was happening with the surge and we wanted to expand so all people could participate,” said Jasmin Tiro, PhD, an Associate Professor at UT Southwestern in the Department of Population and Data Sciences. “initially we had a low participation rate. We have a lot of needs and a lot of interest, but we’re looking for a 100 percent response rate.”
There are still many unanswered questions.
“Our study seeks critical answers we still don’t have – how many in the community have been infected with COVID-19 and why some communities are being harder hit. The large data set from 30,000 community volunteers will allow us to improve the strategies for countering its spread as we continue to restore business and school operations,” Amit Singal, M.D., the principal investigator for the study said in a statement.
The study, which is one of the largest in the country, is designed to help health officials learn more about the virus and how it spreads. It will include tests to determine whether participants have or ever had COVID-19, a vital point since many people are often asymptomatic.
“The latest estimates from the CDC suggest that 4 in 10 people show no signs or symptoms of COVID infection, which means they are potentially (going out and) infecting others,” Professor Tiro added.
Tiro, who leads community engagement efforts for the initiative, said the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study will also help researchers better understand why the disease adversely affects Black and Latino communities in high numbers.
“This disease is very challenging and fast moving and our African American and LatinX populations have higher hospitalization rates, more severe disease and more deaths,” said Tiro. “We really want diverse groups from Dallas and Dallas County to participate so we know where to deploy resources. We can’t know where to put resources if we don’t know what’s happening.”
The study is open to anyone who lives in Dallas or Tarrant county. Individuals who sign up may answer surveys online or via phone and may be further selected for additional tests to determine whether they have or ever had COVID-19.
Anyone interested should register online to participate; go to https://utswmed.org/covidstudy, https://utswmed.org/estudioCOVID, or call 833-947-2577. Those selected for testing will also receive a $20 gift card.