ASU Researchers Awarded $4.7M to Expand COVID-19 Testing in Underserved Arizona Communities

Arizona State University

In Arizona, as in other parts of the country, data shows that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the American Indian, African American and Latinx communities, as well as other vulnerable populations. A $4.7 million grant from the National Institute of Health to ASU’s Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC) is on the way to help address this by funding a rapid and large-scale increase in COVID-19 testing of underserved communities across Arizona.

“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, especially underserved and vulnerable populations who are bearing the brunt of this disease,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate the barriers to testing for those most vulnerable and reduce the burden of this disease.”

ASU is one of 32 institutions receiving an NIH award through its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx  Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program.

In Arizona, the program aims to administer 29,000 saliva tests in minority communities throughout the state, as well as evaluate how well the intervention addresses COVID-19 testing-related barriers. ASU Biodesign Institute’s Clinical Testing Laboratory will provide saliva-based testing with a rapid turnaround for delivering test results.

The project begins immediately and is scheduled to run through June of 2022.

“SIRCs community-based effort has the promise of increasing access to testing and the preparation work for full participation in a future anticipated vaccine program,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “The evaluation component will enable us to document the intervention’s impact and to learn more about existing barriers and effective strategies needed to address the social determinants of health.”

The research team and its community partners hope to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 diagnostics, education and referral services — ultimately improving the health of underserved communities. The group’s approach is data driven and will empower local communities, meet community members where they are, and create the needed infrastructure for community-driven delivery of care.

“Receiving this supplemental award to our existing U54 center grant will allow us to significantly expand ASU’s COVID-19 related efforts in Arizona,” said Flavio Marsiglia, ASU Regents Professor who is also the Founder and Director of ASU’s Global Center for Applied Health Research (GCAHR) in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “The proposed project is the result of long- and well-established partnerships with the most vulnerable and underserved communities across the state and we look forward to working together with our community partners and an expanded transdisciplinary team of ASU investigators.”

The 18-month-long project brings together SIRC and GCAHR with a coalition of community-based organizations and their community health workers to implement an expanded and accessible COVID-19 testing program, identify and eliminate testing deserts, and provide services and referrals to people who test positive for the disease.

“This is an inspired, collaborative effort in the best tradition of SIRC, bringing together community members to address a gap in the service delivery system in a time of crisis,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “There is important work to be done today and very important new knowledge will emerge from it.  Congratulations to Dr. Marsiglia and the entire transdisciplinary team, their community partners and to the entire SIRC team and its director, Dr. Sabrina Oesterle.”

SIRC is a research center at ASU whose mission is to generate use-inspired knowledge and interventions on social and cultural determinants of health in partnership with communities of the Southwest to prevent, reduce and eliminate health disparities.

Community partners in the project include Equality Health Foundation, the Community and Scientific Advisory Board, COVID-19 Coalition of Communities of Color Partners, and ASU’s  Biodesign Institute Clinical Testing Laboratory and SIRC.

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