DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In North Texas and around the nation, COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact in minority communities. Now, a massive local study looks to determine exactly why. ​

The “DFW COVID-19 Prevalence Study” is a joint effort organized by UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Resources.​

To date, more than 48,000 patients have tested positive in Dallas and Tarrant Counties.

Amit Singal, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and population and data sciences at UT Southwestern, calls the known infections “the tip of the iceberg,” suspecting that the actual infection rate is much higher. He is the study’s principal investigator.​

“We believe that these disparities extend beyond any biological differences,” Dr. Singal said, “and is likely related to environmental and behavioral factors such as crowded living situations, and air and housing quality.” ​

Researchers say identifying asymptomatic COVID-19 patients is critical — especially in minority communities, where the spread is likely even higher than experts have determined.​

For example, the most recent Dallas County report shows 60% of those infected, so far, identify as Hispanic, and the rate of infection is exponentially higher.​

  • Hispanic: 667.4 per 100,000​
  • Asian: 187.4 per 100,000​
  • Blacks: 136.4 per 100,000​
  • Whites: 43.8 per 100,000​

Some 30,000 patients in Dallas and Tarrant counties will be invited to participate in the study, with a deliberate focus on screening across racial and socioeconomic lines. Already researchers are pleading for the cooperation needed to provide answers.​

“Science is continually evolving in terms of our understanding of the COVID pandemic,” said Jasmin Tiro, Ph.D., associate professor of population and data sciences at UT Southwestern and study co-principal investigator. “We are all working really hard to advance the science.”​

Researchers have a goal of identifying participants within the next five months — although they have promised to not wait until the inquiry’s end to release helpful findings.

So just how long do experts believe the pandemic will plague our communities?​

“I don’t think anyone can predict with any precision, how long this will be present in the community,” said Andrew Masica, M.D., chief medical officer of reliable health for Texas Health Resources and study co-principal investigator. “It’s something that have to prepare for and knowledge about epidemiology, behaviors and specific policy changes we may be able to make– I feel this study will generate information along those lines.”​