It Takes A Village Family of Schools (ITAV), in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), has launched a new COVID-19 testing initiative at ITAV schools around Chicago. While many educational facilities have struggled with COVID-19 outbreaks due to earlier vaccine unavailability for children and lack of citywide testing standards, ITAV is partnering with UIC to take on the challenge of preventing COVID-19 breakouts within schools.
This new initiative forms part of a study led by Renee Taylor, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences, and funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Walder Foundation’s Chicago Coronavirus Assessment Network initiative and a Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations grant from the National Institutes of Health. ITAV will be instrumental in helping UIC better understand factors associated with disparities in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, specifically in childcare centers.
“It is our strong belief that prevention of COVID-19 transmission through increased COVID-19 literacy and self-care agency, combined with early intervention via rapid diagnosis, contact tracing, and earlier access to treatment, will significantly reduce COVID-19 transmission, morbidity, and mortality, compared with usual care approaches,” said Taylor.
ITAV teachers and staff now receive regular testing for the COVID-19 virus at all ITAV sites and rewards for participating in prevention. Together, ITAV and UIC are building a pilot program of COVID-19 prevention and mitigation in education settings while promoting health equity for families during a time of crisis.
According to ITAV COO Anita Andrews-Hutchinson, “It is these types of partnerships that enable innovation in safety practices to keep our school environments healthy. We are all responsible for our collective health, and pilot programs like these may provide data that can influence public health policy. Our interest in working with UIC on this initiative is to not only support the children and families we serve today but to pave the way for future programs to be able to provide the same level of assurance to families who may face hesitancies surrounding their children returning to schools and childcare centers.”
Currently no standard exists for testing teachers and staff for COVID-19 in schools or early learning centers across Chicago—nor nationally. At the same time, children younger than 12 cannot be vaccinated, and researchers still must determine the extent of their roles as carriers of the virus. This area still needs crucial research, so ITAV staff participation in this investigation comes at a critical time.
ITAV is growing consistently to meet the community’s needs. By adding regular screening to existing safety practices recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within each center, ITAV and UIC personnel intend to foster a workplace culture of ongoing symptom surveillance and testing acceptance together for children and families in Chicago and beyond.
For more information, call Tara Shedor at (312) 868-0588, ext. 5013, or email her at [email protected].