The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding five additional projects to identify ways of safely returning students and staff to in-person school in areas with vulnerable and underserved populations. The awards are the second installment of the Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative, launched earlier this year as part of the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program. The new awards will provide up to $15 million over two years for five projects in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Florida. The eight initial awards, totaling $33 million over two years, were made in April 2021.
“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,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and co-chair of the RADx-UP program.
The program addresses the needs of children with unequal access to COVID-19 testing as well as those facing barriers to attending school remotely, including children who lack access to computers and internet connectivity, or who may not have family members available to help with virtual learning. Without in-person schooling, many children will miss out on school-based meals, speech or occupational therapy, and after school programs. Loss of such services disproportionately affects minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged children, children with disabilities, and those with medical complexities, such as those with medication-related problems, mental health issues, severe neurologic conditions or other serious health conditions, and those who are dependent on medical technology for daily living. Award recipients also will explore strategies for including preschoolers in return to school efforts.
The new projects will focus on implementing COVID-19 testing regimens for students younger than age 12, who are ineligible for vaccination, exploring the influence of vaccination for eligible staff and students, addressing vaccine hesitancy, and seeking information on circulating variants and breakthrough infections. One of the new projects will focus on native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders, groups not addressed in the previous awards. Researchers will work closely with state, tribal, and local officials in planning their investigations.
“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 Diana W. Bianchi, MD, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is managing the initiative.
- This press release was originally published on the National Institute of Health website