NEW YORK ─ The National Institutes of Health said on Friday that it is funding an additional five projects to identify ways of safely returning students and staff to school in areas with vulnerable and underserved populations.
The awards represent the second installment of the Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative, launched in April as part of the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations program, also called RADx-UP.
The new awards will provide up to $15 million over two years for five projects in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Florida, NIH said. The projects will focus on implementing COVID-19 testing regimens for students younger than age 12, who are ineligible for vaccination. Additionally, they will explore the influence of vaccination for eligible staff and students; address vaccine hesitancy; and seek information on circulating variants and breakthrough infections, the agency 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," 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 in a statement.
For its first installment, announced in April, the agency provided $33 million over two years for projects at 10 institutions in eight states.
The NIH said its overall program addresses the needs of children with unequal access to COVID-19 testing and those facing barriers to attending school remotely. That includes children who lack access to computers and internet connectivity, or who may not have family members available to help with virtual learning.