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UCLA Team Awarded Nearly $3 Million for “Safe Return to School” Effort

National Institutes of Health-funded project is researching how to increase COVID-19 testing access and uptake for children in underserved and vulnerable populations

Friday, July 2, 2021

A team of researchers co-led by Dr. Moira Inkelas, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of health policy and management, and Dr. Mitch Wong, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, has received almost $3 million in grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to increase COVID-19 testing access and uptake for underserved and vulnerable 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,” Inkelas said. “We’re working to understand how K-12 grades can go back to school safely.”

Inkelas, whose research is primarily concerned with children’s access to health care, also serves as co-lead of the Population Health Program within UCLA’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), whose researchers work to address some of the most challenging health and social problems facing children and families. “This initiative will specifically focus on practical questions facing schools with diverse populations here in Los Angeles,” Inkelas said.

The UCLA team includes faculty and staff from the UCLA Fielding School’s departments of health policy and management and epidemiology, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), and UCLA’s CTSI, partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

UCLA's is one of is one of 15 teams that have received an NIH award through the RADx-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing initiative, a part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, NIH officials 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,” said Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and co-chair of the RADx-UP program.

The UCLA grant announced Friday includes $1.5 million for FY 2021 (starting July 2021); the remainder will follow. NIH officials said the research is needed to ensure that when children return to school in September, they do so safely.

“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 (NICHD), which is managing the initiative.

Other members of the UCLA team include Dr. Onyebuchi Arah and Dr. Tony Kuo, both with the UCLA Fielding School’s Department of Epidemiology; DGSOM’s Dr. Vladimir Manuel, Dr. Annabelle De St Maurice, Dr. David Goodman, Dr. Omai Garner, and Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz; Dr. Kimberley Gomez (UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies), and Dr. Dan Cooper and Dr. Andrew Penner, both with UC Irvine.

The interdisciplinary nature of the team that UCLA and UC Irvine bring to the project is one of the strengths of California’s public university system, and that capability was recognized by the NIH, officials said.

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

The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has 631 students from 26 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.