The Genome Access Technology Center at the McDonnell Genome Institute’s (GTAC@MGI) saliva-based COVID-19 test has been deployed to provide weekly testing for teachers, staff, and students in the six special education schools operated by the Special School District of St. Louis County. A WUSM research team, led by Drs. Christina Gurnett, John Constantino, and Jason Newland were awarded a $5 million grant to implement the COVID-19 testing, part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program at the National Institutes of Health. Earlier this fall, RADx-UP funded community-engaged projects at 32 medical centers to expand testing programs in underserved and/or vulnerable communities. The WUSM project will support up to 750 families with students in the district and upwards of 600 teachers and staff.
Students with special needs, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In-person schooling is critical for this population of students and frequent testing is important for keeping the school environment safe. Staff and teachers in special education schools also face a greater risk of exposure because of their roles as caregivers to students in school. The MGI faculty have been working in the special schools since they began a modified in-person schooling schedule in mid-November.
The RADx-UP award supplements ongoing research programs at the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) at Washington University, an NIH-funded research center focused on neurodevelopmental disorders. In addition to the WUSM team, researchers from the Brown School, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Institute for Human Development, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore are helping lead efforts to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on children with intellectual and developmental disabilities on a national level.