Responding to COVID-19

North Texas COVID-19 Prevalence Study

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JUNE 30, 2020

Welcome to the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study

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UT Southwestern, in partnership with Texas Health Resources, local organizations, and community leaders, is leading groundbreaking research to understand the spread of the novel coronavirus: the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study.

Millions of people all over the world and in the United States, including more than 15,000 in North Texas, have tested positive for COVID-19. Many more have been infected, do not have symptoms, and do not know they are passing the virus to others. The number is still climbing, with more outbreaks of the disease expected.

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Understanding who has COVID-19 and how it spreads

One of the major challenges to stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a lack of information – including where the virus is spreading and why certain people are more affected than others. For example, current data shows a disproportionate number of illness, hospitalizations, and deaths among African Americans and Latino populations, as well as low income individuals. However, little information exists to explain why this is happening.

With the DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study, our goal is to understand how many people actually are or have been infected in our local North Texas community and help develop effective and fair public health strategies to reduce any further deaths related to this disease. We believe data from this study will help inform what needs to be done to open our economy safely and to return to our normal lives.

UTSW works toward health equity

Amit Singal, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and principal investigator of this study explains the importance of understanding the true prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

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Study design

We will recruit about 45,000 residents of Dallas and Tarrant counties to receive free testing for the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as testing for antibodies against the virus. You will have antibodies against the COVID-19 virus if you have been infected and you are no longer sick.

  • Invitations to participate will be mailed to households between July and November.
  • Testing will be conducted at many sites in Dallas and Tarrant counties.
  • Reports of what we learn about COVID-19 prevalence will be made available to the community during the course of the study – on this website and through local community leaders.

Getting involved

We welcome support and assistance from community organizations and leaders across Dallas and Tarrant counties in raising awareness about this important study. In addition, should you not be selected for this study but still wish to encourage others to participate, we welcome your support and engagement. If you are interested in serving as a community influencer to help both the general public as well as your members or constituencies better understand the study goals and why their involvement is helpful, please email us at dfwcovidstudy@utsouthwestern.edu.

Frequently asked questions

What testing are you doing?

We are using two different COVID tests. The first is a nasal swab to test for current infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. This detects the presence of the virus in your body. This test is also called a PCR test or RNA test. The second is a blood test. The blood test detects antibodies to COVID-19 in your body. This is also called a serology test. If you have antibodies, it is likely that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the past and no longer have an active infection.

Why are you doing two tests? What’s the difference?

There are currently two types of COVID-19 tests. One uses a nasal swab to tests current infection and the other tests for infection in the past by measuring antibodies to COVID-19 in your blood. We still don’t know how long one might be protected from becoming re-infected. We hope the combination of the two tests will help us answer some of these questions.

If I’m selected, where will I get tested?

Testing sites will be located throughout Dallas and Tarrant counties. We are still deciding where the sites will be, and we will make sure sites are easy to access and convenient.

Can I still participate if I already had a COVID test?

There is still value to be re-tested for you personally and for the community. If you previously tested negative, then you could have been exposed since that time and might not have had any symptoms. If the test was positive, we will be doing an antibody test and can determine how many antibodies you have against the virus. From a community standpoint, it is important that as many people who are invited participate as possible. This will help us calculate the best estimate for how widespread COVID-19 is in Dallas and Tarrant Counties and to better inform policies such as social distancing and the re-opening of businesses.

I heard antibody testing isn’t reliable. What is the study doing to address this?

There has been a lot of confusion in the media about whether antibody tests are consistent and accurate, so we understand your concern. UT Southwestern has performed extensive testing to make sure the antibody test we are using is reliable. All antibody tests for the study will be run at UTSW labs using a validated, highly accurate testing protocol. The test will detect 99 percent of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past (true positive result) and, similarly, will be negative in 99 percent of people without prior exposure (true negative result). We have been careful to select a test that has both high true positive and high true negative results.

What does it mean if I test positive?

If you test by nasal swab is positive, then you currently have an active COVID-19 infection and can pass on the virus to others. We will contact you to share testing resources for your family and household members as well as friends and co-workers with whom you have recently been in close contact. We will also work with Dallas County Health and Human Services to do contact tracing.

If your blood test is positive for antibodies to COVID-19, then you were likely exposed to COVID-19 in the past, do not have an active infection, and you are not currently passing the virus on to others. We will contact all people with positive results to explain the results in more detail.

How will we know what you learn?

We will use this website, social media, and other connections to keep our participants and the community informed. We plan to update the community at regular intervals (every 1-2 weeks) as the study enrolls participants. Please check this website during the fall to hear about study findings.

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Funding for this study has been provided by the Lyda Hill Foundation and others. We are grateful for this support.

We will be updating this website as the study progresses, so please check back.

This study has been approved by UT Southwestern IRB Protocol #STU-2020-0540.