Renee Taylor to lead a project to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Chicago

An AHS researcher will lead a project to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Chicago neighborhoods where testing is limited or unavailable.

“We strongly believe we can reduce COVID-19 transmission in underserved populations by providing easy at-home tests, contact tracing and earlier access to treatment, as well as a mobile app to educate people about the coronavirus and explain why self-care is important,” said Renee Taylor, professor of occupational therapy and associate dean for academic and faculty affairs.

The project is a collaboration with UI Health’s Mile Square Health Center, the School of Public Health and the College of Medicine.

The study received a $1.2 million grant from the Skokie-based Walder Foundation, which awarded a total of $7.4 million to eight projects through its Chicago Coronavirus Assessment Network (Chicago CAN).

Samples will be collected from people with and without symptoms as part of an early warning system to prevent full-blown outbreaks. The project will use a saliva test developed by co-investigator Nahed Ismail, professor of pathology, that can be collected at home and sent to the pathology department’s Clinical Microbiology Laboratory for analysis.

About 450,000 low-income Chicagoans don’t have access to health care, Taylor said. Many of the Federally Qualified Health Centers that could serve them, like the 13 Mile Square clinics in the city, can’t provide on-site COVID-19 testing and extensive follow-up care.

“These challenges have led to delays in needed COVID-19 diagnosis and care and have likely resulted in increased COVID-19-related complications and deaths, even in children and adults without pre-existing conditions,” Taylor said.

“Many of these complications might have been prevented with earlier diagnosis, deliverable at-home medical devices and therapies, and mobile-health-literacy-informed at-home care tips.”

Another UIC project funded as part of the Chicago CAN initiative, led by researchers in the biological sciences department and the Discovery Partners Institute, will develop a system to detect the virus in Chicago wastewater and warn of potential outbreaks.