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DSU awarded $1.5M grant to study COVID-19 in underserved communities

Delaware News Desk
Delaware State University’s Dorothy Dillard and Xuanren Goodman will receive collaborative assistance from Peggy Geisler and Kathryn Burritt of the Sussex County Health Coalition in a project that will research the social and behavioral factors relating to COVID-19 in underserved communities in Delaware.

The National Institute of Health’s National Institute of General and Medical Sciences awarded Delaware State University a two-year, $1.15 million exploratory grant to research social and behavioral factors related to COVID-19 infection in minority communities.

As part of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations program supports research that aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns, attitudes and risk-reduction behaviors among underserved and vulnerable populations.

DSU’s research project — one of 32 institutions that received the NIH grant through the RADx-UP program — will work to develop communications strategies to increase the acceptance of testing and a future vaccine.

The Principal Investigators of the grant are Dorothy Dillard, director of the Center for Neighborhood Revitalization and Research; Xuanren Goodman, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice; and Melissa Harrington, associate vice president of research. Nicole Bell Rogers, assistant professor of nursing, is also part of the research team. 

Dillard noted the importance of the research in Delaware State University’s expanding research portfolio.

“This project builds on the NIH sponsored work of Dr. Harrington and showcases our community-engaged research efforts by collaborating across disciplines, partnering with trusted community organizations, focusing on underserved communities and informing public health,” Dillard said.

The researchers will work to identify social and behavioral factors through a survey that will collect detailed information on the participants’ medical histories and current health, family structure and living conditions, employment and socioeconomic status. The survey will also document social distancing knowledge and practices, access to health care, presence of COVID-19 symptoms in themselves and among their contacts, their history of virus testing and attitudes toward it, as well as their interest in receiving a vaccine.

Community partners the Sussex County Health Coalition and the Wilmington Community Advisory Council will assist the researchers in recruiting participants from underserved communities that score poorly on Delaware’s Community Health Index, which are also Delaware communities that have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. The community partners will also schedule the data collection visits with the participants and will serve as liaison to the communities and the trusted sites that serve them.

The project will focus on northeast Prices Run, Westside and Riverside in New Castle County; west Camden, west Dover and Harrington in Kent County; and Bridgeville, Seaford and Georgetown in Sussex County. 

The project’s goal is to identify strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission and to increase the use and utility of test results among underserved populations. It will also prepare and position underserved communities for the broad uptake of vaccinations once a vaccine becomes available.

“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 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.”