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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The University of Missouri-Kansas City is partnering with local churches to expand testing, access and messaging about COVID-19.

Researchers plan to partner with dozens of churches throughout the inner city and offer COVID tests and tailored messaging to educate about the topic.

“The aim is to really get COVID-19 testing out to populations that otherwise might not get tested and is really suffering the hardest hit areas and the hardest hit populations of COVID-19,” said Professor Janette Berkley-Patton, director of UMKC’s Health Equity Institute.

Patton helping secure a $1.9 million grant through the National Institutes of Health to help study the impact of black churches addressing COVID-19.

UMKC was one of two Missouri universities to receive the grant; Washington University in St. Louis was awarded $2.3 million.

“We know it’s an institution that has incredible long-term trust; they’ve been at the forefront of providing resources and support to trust members to community members,” Patton said.

“The intervention that we are developing in collaboration with our faith leaders will tap into the different strategies that they are using even today to communicate with their members. So that’s live streaming, using text messages, one-on-one phone conversations.”

Sixteen churches will participate in the research.

Pastor Darron Edwards of United Believers Community Church located on East 112th Terrace said this is a helpful way to connect in areas that are often underserved.

Doctors and city leaders have spoken about the disproportionate high rates of COVID-19 infection in Kansas City’s predominately black and urban areas, specifically the 3rd and 5th districts.

“People come to the church, and that’s where they want to get not only their inspiration, but they also want to get education. We try to educate as much as inspire,” Edwards said. “The church is the anchor of the community. One thing about community, change, but churches remain when communities leave.”

The KC Health Department will perform testing at the various church sites.

The study is expected to begin in Spring 2021 and will last two years.