HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. --  The National Institutes of Health recently announced $12 million in funding for an initiative aimed at addressing COVID-19's disproportionate impact on minority communities in some of the places in the U.S. hardest hit by the virus. It's called the Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities.               

What You Need To Know

  • NIH announced $12 million in funding for CEAL research teams

  • Communities of special interest include Florida, California, and North Carolina

  • Goal is to raise awareness of virus in minority communities and work for equitable representation in research efforts

“The CEAL team across the state, each institution has one thing in common, which is that they’ve already developed trusting, long-term relationships with under served communities," said Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, one of the principal investigators for CEAL in Florida. Vadaparampil is also associate director for the Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Vadaparampil said CEAL is partnering with two local clinics on its Tampa Bay outreach efforts -- the Turley Family Health Center in Clearwater and USF's BRIDGE Clinic in Tampa. The BRIDGE clinic opens its doors once a week to the community's uninsured. Volunteers said it's a resource that's become a lifeline.

“Without this, they would not have anything but the emergency room to depend on. The emergency rooms are wonderful, but they're not designed for chronic care," said Dr. Debra Trehy, an OBGYN who volunteers at the clinic.

BRIDGE Clinic Executive Student Director Eliza Nguyen said the pandemic has had a huge impact on the clinic and its patients.

“We know that our patients have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Many of them work in service industries and had to keep working,” said Nguyen, a fourth year medical student at USF's Morsani College of Medicine.

Among those most disproportionately impacted nationwide are racial and ethnic minorities. For instance, information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows hospitalization rates for Hispanic, Latino and Black people are 4.6 times that of white people. The rate for non-Hispanic Native American or Alaska Native is 4.5 times that of white people. According to the NIH, African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native American populations make up half of all reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

CEAL is aimed at increasing awareness about the virus among minority communities and making sure they're equitably represented in clinical trials and research. Vadaparampil said local efforts will involve working with the clinics to hear from providers and patients about concerns.

"So that when we go to the next steps of trying to facilitate research around COVID-19 that it’s also with the preferences, the wishes, and the values of the larger community we serve,” Vadaparampil said.

The recent funding from NIH will support CEAL research teams in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.