NIH program to encourage in-person school, increased COVID-19 testing

April 16, 2021

The National Institutes of Health is awarding up to $33 million over two years to fund projects at 10 institutions across eight states to build evidence on safely returning students, teachers, and support staff to in-person school in areas with vulnerable and underserved populations.

Known as the Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative, the awards program aims to increase COVID-19 testing access and uptake for vulnerable and underserved populations. Projects will combine frequent COVID-19 testing with proven safety measures to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Although many schools are offering both in-person and virtual learning options, some students face barriers to attending school remotely. For example, children may lack access to computer equipment and internet connectivity or may not have family members who can assist them with virtual learning. Moreover, without in-person schooling, many children forego school-based meals, speech or occupational therapy and after school programs. These barriers often disproportionately affect minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged children, and children with medical complexities and/or developmental disabilities.

Participating early childhood education and kindergarten through 12 schools include public, chartered, special education, and pediatric complex care that serve children in urban, rural and tribal communities.

Attendance ranges from 50 to 3,500 children and populations are racially and ethnically diverse, including African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Latinos/Latinas, and Asian Americans. Schools were also selected for being in a school district with at least 50% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

Some projects will involve at-home COVID-19 testing, while others will use pooled, in-school testing approaches. Study participants will receive either molecular or antigen tests, which can detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in samples from nasal swabs or saliva. Researchers will obtain parental consent prior to administering the diagnostic tests to children.

In the coming months, the RADx-UP program will award additional funding, pending availability of funds, to expand the initiative across more locations.

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