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UH Mānoa Receives $3 Million Federal Grant for Safer School Reopening Pilot Project

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The University at Mānoa received $3 million from the National Institutes of Health for its Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 pilot project for safer school reopenings. Photo courtesy: PAAC

The National Institutes of Health awarded nearly $3 million to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for expansion of the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 pilot project in Hawaiʻi schools with vulnerable and underserved communities. The program provides rapid testing of teachers and staff, and distributes information about mitigation and vaccination.

The consortium effort of the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 (PAAC) pilot project is led by UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, College of Social Sciences and the Accountable Healthcare Alliance of Rural Oʻahu (AHARO).

“PAAC’s goal is to empower educators, students and the community-at-large with education tools and connections with public health services, including those provided by the AHARO Community Health Centers,” said May Okihiro, Associate Professor in Pediatrics and co-investigator.  “The plan is for free antigen testing of school teachers and staff to be expanded to schools in Waiʻanae and Waimānalo on Oʻahu, Hāmākua-Kohala and Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island, and on Molokaʻi.”


PAAC’s novel protocol for rapid testing was successfully tested this spring in partnership with Kamaile Academy (K-12) in Waiʻanae. The project offered free weekly SARS-CoV-2 antigen testing of teachers and staff.

“About 87% of participants reported their participation led to a better understanding of the need for antigen testing, and 52% were more likely to be vaccinated as a result of the pilot testing and education program,” said project co-investigator Ruben Juarez, a professor of economics and research fellow in the UH Economic Research Organization in the College of Social Sciences.

“The project reaffirms that schools are an asset in preventing the spread of COVID-19 into our communities,” added project co-investigator Alika Maunakea, an associate professor in JABSOM’s Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology and the Institute for Biogenesis Research.


UH Mānoa is one of 15 institutions to receive a NIH award through the RADx-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing initiative, a part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.

“The new awards reaffirm NIH’s commitment to use evidence-based research to inform policy makers of the safest ways to return to schools in vulnerable and underserved communities,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and co-chair of the RADx-UP program.

The initiative will specifically focus on schools with racially and ethnically diverse populations, including African-Americans, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans. It will also impact socio-economically disadvantaged populations and school districts where many students are receiving free or reduced price lunch; and students with medical complexities and developmental disabilities.


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