In an effort to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks in high-risk communities, the Trump administration said it has started shipping rapid coronavirus tests to more than three dozen historically Black colleges and universities.
In the first shipment, more than 250,000 rapid tests were distributed to 41 public colleges and Howard University that identify as HBCUs, federal officials said.
“We know they’ve been underserved historically, and we just want to support them,” Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House coronavirus task force testing czar, told McClatchy.
Another 300,000 are anticipated for delivery by next week to approximately 65 more HBCUs that did not receive the tests in the first round, the officials told McClatchy.
“We think it’s very, very important to equip HBCUs,” Giroir said. “It is a fact, except for a few very high-tech globally competitive universities that many of these are small, rural and do not have the kind of laboratory capacity that other universities do have.”
HBCUs are universities that were founded with primarily Black student bodies before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
African Americans are five times more likely to be hospitalized from coronavirus, Giroir said. An analysis of HBCUs that the administration conducted also found them to have older faculty and staff with other health factors that made them a high-risk demographic for the coronavirus.
Each university is receiving enough kits to test every member of its student body, staff and faculty, although the administration does not believe that will be necessary. The number of tests will allow the HBCUs to test symptomatic individuals and 5 to 10 percent of their student populations a week.
“And if you start getting positives, you know you have that spark before you have a wildfire,” Giroir said.
Each school is expected to receive between 3,000 and 10,000 tests initially, and they will be resupplied “as often as they need,” he said. While the initial supply of coronavirus tests are anticipated to “last weeks,” he said the government could resupply the schools “as frequently as every week” if necessary.
“This first shipment should last them quite a period of time unless there’s a very unusual circumstance within that campus,” he said, in which case the federal government would surge tests and supplies to those schools
HBCUs are the latest beneficiaries of rapid tests that the Department of Health and Human Services said it had ordered from Abbott in August as part of a contract for 150 million tests by the end of the year.
The rapid coronavirus tests were sent to Howard, a private university, and 41 public institutions, including Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, Florida A&M University, Kentucky State University, Elizabeth City State University and Fort Valley State University.
Officials pledged Monday to send tests to all 107 of the schools that are identified by the Department of Education as HBCUs.
Giroir said the task force identified HBCUs for the additional support after conducting an analysis of the demographics of the faculty and staff at the schools.