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FAMU Gets Gates Foundation Grant For Separate COVID-19 Testing, Processing Facility

Three people stand in front of a tent. On the tent is a banner that reads, "COVID-19 Test Site."
Florida A&M University
(From left) Bond CEO Dr. Temple Robinson, FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., and Cynthia Harris, Ph.D., director of the FAMU Institute of Public Health, at the opening of the COVID-19 testing site.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be giving $1.5 million to Florida A&M University to create a separate COVID-19 testing and processing laboratory facility for its students, faculty, and staff.

The announcement follows the state’s decision to privatize the current testing site at the school’s Bragg Memorial stadium.

“We have had on our campus, since April 25th, a community-based state-operated COVID-19 testing site and tested well over 56,000 [people],” said FAMU President, Larry Robinson.

He said the Gates grant will enable the school to have its own certified testing lab on campus. FAMU already has the equipment to run the site; it will use the money to hire the personnel needed to staff the operation. The school expects to have test results within 24 to 48 hours.

“COVID-19 is exposing some hard truths about inequity in the United States and particularly its impact on the black community,” said Alan Golston, the president of the U.S program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

FAMU will also provide testing and processing services for three other Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state -- Bethune Cookman University, Florida Memorial University, and Edward Waters College.

“We'll have a tremendous impact because all of us are located in these very specific communities where these disparities are occurring and where the impact, I believe, will be tremendously great,” said Robinson.

Robinson says the current testing site has been valuable because it's on the side of town where it is most needed.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be infected with the virus and to die from it. The CDC also noted COVID-19 infections among young adults ages 18 to 22, increased by 55% as many students returned to class between August and September.

The foundation’s Golston said safely reopening campuses and keeping them open requires access to rapid, effective COVID-19 diagnostic testing.

“Now, we can focus specifically on the internal needs of our students, faculty and staff, as we move into the fall and spring semesters of 2021,” said Robinson.

The University hopes to hire lab staffers within the next few weeks.

Specimens collected will be tested in a 340-square-foot laboratory at the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research on Mahan Drive. Students, faculty and staff will be able to get swabbed at the FAMU Activity Center, the old Club House, on South Adams Street.

Sha’Tara Simmons is a journalism student at Florida A&M University.