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Howard University and other HBCUs receive millions to expand coronavirus testing

By Lauren Lumpkin Oct. 13, 2020 at 7:44 p.m. EDT

Howard University and up to nine other schools will receive millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support campus coronavirus testing facilities and expand screening for thousands of students at historically Black colleges and universities, the foundation announced Tuesday. The foundation’s three-year, $15 million donation will equip as many as 10 schools to be testing hubs that process tests for the novel coronavirus that are administered at other HBCUs in their regions. “This will give us a different level of capacity,” said Wayne A.I. Frederick, the president of Howard. “The intent was really to have all the HBCUs participate, and if you have 10 hubs . . . I think we do have the capacity to cover just about everyone.” Howard aims to work with other D.C.-area HBCUs, including Morgan State and Coppin State universities in Baltimore and the University of the District of Columbia, Frederick said.

HBCUs and the communities they serve have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Black colleges and universities, historically under-resourced, are being acutely affected by the financial crisis the pandemic ushered into the world of higher education. And Black Americans, in part because of disparities in health-care access that are exacerbated by economic inequality, are at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus and dying of covid-19, the disease it causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But university leaders are hopeful the support from the Gates Foundation will make a difference by bringing more tests and faster results to their communities.

“All of us are located in . . . communities where these disparities are occurring and where the impact, I believe, will be tremendously great,” said Larry Robinson, the president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Florida A&M also was selected to be a testing hub. He said the university will process tests for three other HBCUs in Florida Other testing hubs announced Tuesday will be at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Up to four more schools will be selected in the coming weeks, a Gates Foundation executive said.

“The colleges and universities will continue to need access to diagnostic testing and test processing until vaccines and therapeutics are universally available and accessible,” said Toni Hoover, the director of strategy planning and management for global health for the foundation, adding that the gift will enable schools “to strengthen their lab capabilities and research capacities.”

The infrastructure for these partnerships comes from the Just Project, an initiative by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a lab equipment company that is providing free test kits, supplies and training to HBCUs. So far, 46 schools have signed up to serve as testing hubs, testing sites or both, said Ron O’Brien, a spokesman for the company.



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