By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A major local study aimed at tracking the spread of Covid-19 now expanding its reach.

The UT Southwestern effort is also tapping trusted allies in the community to both survey and serve those most at risk.

“I signed up for the study. We are encouraging our church and others to sign up for the study,” says Pastor Bryan Carter, Senior Pastor at Dallas’ Concord Church ,”because they have specifically said that they need communities of color to be a part of the study, so the results can also reflect how it impacts us.”

With Covid infections once again on the rise, there is new urgency surrounding a UT Southwestern study launched earlier this summer.

The research effort aims to track the virus’ spread– especially among those who don’t show symptoms.

“The CDC currently predicts that 4 out of 10 people–40%– are asymptomatic when they have a Covid infection,” says Dr. Jasmin Tiro, a UTSWMC Covid Study Co-Investigator. “We can’t understand the spread of Covid through our communities, unless we actually have information and testing results on people who are asymptomatic.”

And yet researchers understand the hesitancy of minority communities when asked to participate in biomedical research.

“Absolutely,” says Dr. Tiro. “Absolutely, there has been longstanding historical documentation of the fact that studies were not done in the right way.”

Dr. Tiro stresses that safeguards are in place– and yet realizes that assurances don’t necessarily build trust.

That’s where community partners like Concord can play a critical role.

According to Pastor Carter, his church and others have been pressed to expand social as well as spiritual safety nets during the pandemic.

“So our food pantry, our counseling center, rental assistance, mortgage assistance,” shares Pastor Carter, “in, times of crisis, the church has to be at its best.”

And that next best effort?

To encourage members and others in the community to become medical ambassadors– sharing information that will help researchers as they fight to limit the virus’ spread.

Initially launched as an invitation-only study, volunteers from anywhere in Dallas or Tarrant counties are now being encouraged to go online and enroll.

“So whatever we can do to try and figure out how we can get to the vaccine the quickest, how we can get to better treatment,” says Pastor Carter, “we want to be a part of that.”

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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