A UCLA research team has been awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to study how to increase COVID-19 testing access for a safe return to school, particularly for underserved populations.

“The goal of our research is to reduce disparities in returning to in-person learning for those vulnerable and underserved school children in communities that are disproportionately affected by, have the highest infection rates of, and are most at risk for adverse outcomes from contracting the virus,” said the team’s co-leader Dr. Moira Inkelas of UCLA Fielding School of Public Police.

“We’re working to understand how K-12 grades can go back to school safely.”

The team is comprised of faculty and staff from the Fielding School’s departments of health policy and management and epidemiology, as well as the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA’s CTSI. The team is also partnering with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“This initiative will specifically focus on practical questions facing schools with diverse populations here in Los Angeles,” said Inkelas.

UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute Director Dr. Steven M. Dubinett said, “UCLA will bring breadth and depth of scientific expertise to study the impact and effects of Los Angeles Unified’s reopening plan and to share the information learned from these research efforts throughout the world.”

NIH awarded 15 research teams grants through its RADx-Underserved Populations Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative. It said the research will help ensure that children return safely to school.

“The in-person school environment and the wide range of services offered there are critical to the development of our nation’s young people. By learning the best practices and methods through research, we can get children back in the classroom safely and equitably,” said Dr. Diana W. Bianchi, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is managing the initiative.

Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and co-chair of the RADx-UP program, said, “The new awards reaffirm NIH’s commitment to use evidence-based research to inform policy makers of the safest ways to return to schools in vulnerable and underserved communities.”

UCLA will use the first half of the grant in its 2021 fiscal year, which started this July, and the remaining half will be used later, the university said.

The study’s team includes Dr. Onyebuchi Arah and Dr. Tony Kuo, of the Fielding School’s Department of Epidemiology; the David Geffen School of Medicine’s Dr. Vladimir Manuel, Dr. Annabelle De St Maurice, Dr. David Goodman, Dr. Omai Garner and Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz; Dr. Kimberley Gomez of UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies; and Dr. Dan Cooper and Dr. Andrew Penner, with UC Irvine.

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