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Public health experts at DSHS and UTHealth collaborate on nation’s largest COVID-19 serological testing assessment

Last updated on October 19, 2020

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To help public health professionals and scientists better understand the spread of COVID-19 in Texas and the immune response it causes in individuals, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are partnering with the Texas Department of State Health Services to launch the Texas Coronavirus Antibody Response Survey, Texas CARES. Texas CARES will determine the proportion of people throughout Texas who have COVID-19 antibodies, indicating a past infection and presumably some degree of immune protection.

DSHS worked with UTHealth to develop and fund the antibody survey to broadly describe the experience Texans are having with COVID-19. With antibody testing purchased by the state, funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the expertise of UTHealth researchers, the collaboration aims to learn more about the number of people who have been infected in Texas, follow how infections spread over time, understand risk factors for the disease, and inform planning for future health care needs due to COVID-19.

Survey participants will be asked to complete a brief survey about their health and factors that affect it. Next, they will visit a participating clinic to have their blood drawn for the first of up to three antibody tests that will occur several months apart.

“Texans who participate in this survey will provide valuable information about who has and who has not been infected and how that is changing over time,” said Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, dean and M. David Low Chair in Public Health at UTHealth School of Public Health. “I’m asked all the time about how a person can help in this fight against COVID-19. Well, participating in this survey is one way all Texans can help,” Boerwinkle added. 

The survey team is looking to enroll a diverse population of participants to gather more insight on why some individuals infected with the virus are asymptomatic and if that affects their antibody response. Those who have tested positive, negative, or have never been tested for COVID-19 are eligible to enroll in this assessment.

“DSHS saw a need to better understand how COVID-19 is affecting people across our state,” said DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD. “We are excited to partner with UTHealth on this effort that will give us an in-depth look at COVID-19 in Texas and help us continue to plan and respond to the pandemic.”

The assessment team plans to enroll approximately 100,000 people making it one of the largest COVID-19 antibody surveys in the U.S. Texas CARES will focus on several specific groups: Children 5 to 17 years old; teachers and education professionals; employees within retail, business, or service industries; and patients and staff at community clinics.

“We believe Texans across these groups will provide a snapshot of Texas as a whole. Focusing on these groups will allow us to better understand COVID-19 antibodies and how they impact our neighbors across different age groups and communities,” said Melissa Valerio-Shewmaker, PhD, an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health in Brownsville.

Texas CARES is managed by a collaborative team of researchers from UTHealth School of Public Health and DSHS in partnership with Clinical Pathology Laboratories and The University of Texas System. Other survey team members from UTHealth School of Public Health include Ashraf Yaseen, PhD; Stacia DeSantis, PhD; Steven Kelder, PhD; Bill Kohl III, PhD; Sarah Messiah, PhD; and Michael Swartz, PhD. Team members from DSHS are Jennifer Shuford, MD, and Stephen Pont, MD.

For more information or to sign up for this survey visit the Texas CARES website or email [email protected]

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