$4 million project aimed to protect vulnerable children in school

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As COVID continues to linger on, Mary Cariola Center School is joining forces with the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester in an effort to keep schools open for its students to keep learning.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding the $4 million project, with the goal of protecting students and staff.

"It’s a great partnership with U of R, and I’m really pleased that we can have that right in our school," said Karen Zandi, president and chief executive officer of Mary Cariola.

Sarah Tedesco, whose son is autistic and intellectually disabled, is thrilled to hear that her son’s school is launching this program.

"Making medical and healthcare decisions has always been stressful even under the best of circumstances, but when you have a child with a disability the stakes are even higher," Tedesco said. "With his limited ability to communicate we do worry that if he were to contract the virus we might not know he was sick until it was very serious."

Seeing this vulnerability among this group of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the University of Rochester’s Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience teamed up with the Mary Cariola Center School and will regularly test students and staff at all three of Mary Cariola’s campuses.

A non-vaccinated person with IDD is four times more likely to contract COVID and eight times more likely to die from COVID than someone without IDD, according to the NIH.

"We want to keep these kids safe. We want to test and test and make sure if there’s an outbreak of the virus, we find that as quickly as possible, and we get those folks out of circulation so that the virus doesn’t get into the school and run rife in the school," said John Foxe, Ph.D. Dr. Foze is the director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. "As we folks get vaccinated, we need to understand what their antibody response is and how long-lasting it is. We can’t assume that these medically fragile complex health cases that we see in the IDD are going to be exactly the way it is in the typical population."

The study will last for two years. Mary Cariola Center School educates over 450 students and employs approximately 700 staff members. In addition to regular testing on-site, the Del Monte Institute of Neuroscience has a mobile van that can travel to students’ and staff’s homes in the event they need a COVID test.