Friday, October 30, 2020
  Community, Research

By News and Internal Communications

By Dimitra Trejo

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UT Health RGV Clinical Lab has been awarded a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) partnership grant for expanded research in COVID-19 testing. 

The grant is part of a multi-institutional approach designed to address COVID-19 testing disparities among vulnerable populations in Texas. 

Dr. John Thomas, associate professor in the UTRGV School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics and director of COVID-19 operations at the UT Health RGV Clinical Lab, said the grant will help regional efforts to identify a more precise number of COVID-19 cases. 

“One of the troubles we’ve been having is trying to get testing deployed to cover a good percentage of the population and have a better idea of how many people are infected, positive, negative,” he said, “as well as predicting if there are certain pockets of the population that are more susceptible to the COVID-19 infection than we are actually aware of.”  

The approximately $875,000 grant will allow UTRGV School of Medicine medical providers to conduct testing in rural areas of South Texas, where COVID-19 tests may not be readily available to the community. 

“With this grant we will have a number of ‘promotoras,’ who are community health workers. They essentially will be the bridges between our efforts in colonias and other underserved Valley communities,” Thomas said. “Many in the Valley’s underserved populations speak only Spanish and might be hesitant to seek medical attention. The promotoras will communicate the availability of our COVID-19 testing services to them.”  

The UT Health RGV Clinical Lab will be conducting COVID-19 testing over the next two years and will cover the region south of San Antonio. UT Health Science Center in Houston will cover east Texas and the UT Health Science Center at Tyler will cover the northwest part of the state. 

Since March, UT Health RGV has been screening and testing COVID-19 samples in the region. To date, the UT Health RGV Clinical Laboratory has tested some 65,300 COVID-19 samples through its four drive-thru testing sites, at a capacity of 2,200 samples a day. 

“We are prepared and ready to move into this project,” Thomas said. “Over the past six months, we have been the entity in charge of the state’s efforts for COVID-19 testing in South Texas. UT Health RGV has been part of the state’s task force in charge of testing down here, so we are already set up to do this. We have already demonstrated that we have the capabilities for testing of this magnitude.” 

UT Health RGV will begin the testing in December 2020.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.