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Small Texas City Leads The Way In Local COVID-19 Antibody Prevalence Testing

SMITH COUNTY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - A little more than an hour's drive east of Dallas on Interstate-20 is a small residential city with a fitting name - Hideaway.

"We call it the best kept secret in Texas," said Hideaway's mayor, Roy Hutcheson.

When the pandemic first hit the U.S., Hutcheson said many in his small community viewed COVID-19 as a "big city problem."

Then in late March, a 91-year-old resident of Hideaway tested positive for the virus and became the first in Smith County to die from COVID-19.

"That really put the community on its toes about covid especially because of our demographics," said the mayor.

Nearly half of Hideaway's more than 3,000 residents are older than 65. With a large portion of the population at heighten risk, city leaders wanted to know how rampant the virus was in their tightknit community.

But no one knew the answer.

"So that led to speculation," said Hideaway resident Dr. Sue Royappa. "You have one group of people saying we have nothing so we can just continue life as usual. Then the other group is terrified because they don't know if everyone they run into is an asymptomatic spreader."

This is why Royappa told city leaders Hideaway needed to do a local antibody testing program.

"This way it's not somebody talking about New York City, a thousand miles away or whatever. You are talking about what are the numbers right here in our backyard," Royappa said.

Using federal COVID-19 relief money, Hideaway become the one of the first cities in the country to launch a community-wide antibody testing program – randomly sampling hundreds of its residents.

After the first round of testing, Hideaway discovered roughly 3% of its residents had the antibody.

"The more you find out about the virus, the more clearly you can think and the better decision you are going to make," Royappa said.

In December, Hideaway will do another round of local antibody testing.

Royappa said, along with learning how much the virus had spread, she is also hoping to see if the antibodies last in those who tested positive for them in the first round of testing.

"We just don't know how long people remain immune to the virus," she said.

While Hideaway was one of the first cities in the country to conduct a community-wide antibody testing, UT-Southwestern in Dallas has started on one of the largest prevalence studies.

UT-Southwestern wants to test 44,000 people in Dallas and Tarrant counties to better understand who has covid19 and how it's spreading in North Texas.

Among the 44,000 volunteers, researchers are looking specially for 14,000 school teachers.

"One population that's of particular interest are teachers," said Dr. Amit Singal. "We've seen a lot of anxiety for parents. We've seen a lot of anxiety from school administrators in terms of the safety of our kids and the safety of our teachers."

On Thursday, thousands of Fort Worth ISD teachers received an email asking them to take part in the testing. Teachers are not required to participate.

Researchers said local data will help policy makers make more informed decisions about how to mitigate and contain the spread of the virus.

"Texas data is the only data that is applicable to Texas," Singal said. "We can't use data from New York. We can't use data from California and apply it to our communities."

If you are interested in participating, you can sign up and find more information here.



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