Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), remains a rapidly progressing public health threat, having reached pandemic status in March, 2020. While the proportion of asymptomatic infected individuals remains unclear and most people with COVID-19 do not require hospitalization, the most severe spectrum of the disease is reflected by the mortality rate in settings in which intensive care is available. U.S. data suggests that up to one-third of hospitalized patients require intensive care secondary to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and cardiac injury, both of which are highly associated with mortality. In the U.S., the disease has struck racial and ethnic minority communities especially hard. Deaths due to COVID-19 are significantly higher among Black and Hispanic individuals relative to white or Asian individuals, and the burden of illness is also disproportionate among these groups. Communities of underserved and vulnerable populations including those underlying with heart, lung, blood, and sleep diseases and disorders are especially impacted. Developing effective and sustainable community-engaged strategies to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 and its health consequences would enhance our ability to address the significant morbidity and mortality disparities in COVID-19 in urban and rural communities.
NIH and NHLBI rapidly launched several significant research efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including initiatives to accelerate the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines (ACTIV and ACTIV Integration of Host Targeting Therapies for COVID-19), the development of diagnostic tests (RADx), and the establishment of strategies to optimally deliver tests to underserved and vulnerable populations (RADx-UP), in addition to inviting requests for supplementation of existing awards to conduct COVID-19 work. Although RADx-UP is focused on community-engaged research to increase access to COVID-19 diagnostic testing, there is less dedicated research specifically focused on heart, lung, and blood morbidity and mortality disparities for vulnerable and underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by, have the highest infection rates of, and are most at risk for adverse outcomes from contracting the virus. To accelerate research and improve the health of vulnerable communities, this community-engaged roundtable will seek to identify the key scientific questions and challenges in conducting research in this area.