UChicago Medicine and UIC researchers to study expanded access to rapid COVID-19 testing

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are launching an investigational study to determine the effects of increased education and access to rapid, FDA-approved COVID-19 testing on community perceptions, access, and use of COVID-19 testing resources.

The study will be funded by $2M in support from the National Institutes for Health RADx-UP program. A part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program supports research that aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among underserved and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing.

The research will be led by Ayman Al-Hendy, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UChicago Medicine, and Renee Taylor, PhD, professor of occupational therapy and Nahed Ismail MD, PhD, D(ABMM), D(ABMLI), professor of pathology and medical director of clinical microbiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The investigators plan to leverage existing university-community partnerships and expertise in clinical microbiology, community engagement, and epidemiological infrastructures to expand access to rapid COVID-19 testing.

“There are testing deserts in Chicago, where many people don’t have easy or affordable access to testing,” said Taylor. “We can reach individuals who maybe don’t have health insurance or are concerned about having a COVID-19 test on their medical record and provide them with an easy and private opportunity to get tested.”

The project includes collaboration with community members to co-create advertisements to recruit other participants into the trial as well as a mobile health web app, called the mHealth Literacy and Outreach Suite, that will allow individuals to not only privately order testing, but also learn how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and care for themselves if they fall ill.

Investigators are also sending out kits so participants can collect their own samples and send them to be tested at UIC. Sample collection can be performed rapidly at home with a nasal swab, without the discomfort of the typical nasopharyngeal swab, before sending the sample to the central lab for testing.

The team hopes that the privacy offered by these options, as well as the community advocacy, will help improve the public perception of receiving a COVID-19 test.

“Many people don’t trust the test, are concerned about the expense, or are worried that they’ll be forced out of work or forced to isolate if they have a positive test, which is creating a lot of stigma,” said Ismail. “We need to expand our testing in a community setting where people have some privacy, and the mHealth Suite provides that, as well as overcoming issues of cost.”

Al-Hendy credits the skills of the interdisciplinary team and their pooled community networks for making this collaborative effort possible. “The collaboration between UIC and UChicago Medicine will allow this project to reach many underserved populations,” he said. “Our two institutions already both have robust relationships within our local communities, which will help expand the

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