NC Central study to focus on COVID-19 in underserved communities

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Six Historically Black Colleges and Universities across North Carolina have received a total of $6 million in grant money for coronavirus-related research.

North Carolina Central University's funding will go toward the creation of the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD).

"What are the barriers that these populations are facing in terms of testing and future immunizations?" asked Dr. Deepak Kumar, the Director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI) at NC Central.

Kumar will help oversee a team of researchers that will lead a multi-faceted effort to study the virus's impact.

The researchers' focus will be on underserved communities throughout the state.

"What better place to study COVID disparities than an HBCU, where we have the population that is going to be affected by such disparities," said Kumar, noting that Julius Chambers started BBRI 20 years ago to study health disparities.

Outside of studying the societal impact, the team will also offer nasal-swab testing in seven counties -- Anson, Cabarrus, Durham, Granville, Halifax, Rowan and Vance.

Researchers hope to survey 2,000 to 3,000 people during the next six months.

"What are we messaging, how do we create the message. Because you have to create messaging in a culturally-sensitive manner. And every messaging (campaign) may be different," Kumar said. "Where do you message?"

Even if COVID-19 is no longer a medical concern by the time the research is completed, Kumar said the findings could have an effect in the future.

"People are losing their jobs. People are not able to pay their mortgage. And healthcare is being affected. COVID-19 is going to go soon, hopefully. But the impacts are going to be long-lasting," Kumar said.

Kumar said they are hoping to receive the funds to begin their research in the next couple of weeks.

The partnership was announced by the UNC Board of Governors with collaboration from the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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