When COVID-19 emerged as a threat at San Diego State University School of Public Health, they got to work right away. According to Director Eyal Oren, “We listened to our community advisory boards, identified gaps and opportunities to help and started modifying resources to be of service to our community. Right away we partnered with our County HHSA to develop a culturally appropriate and linguistically concordant community health worker-led contact tracing program for four marginalized San Diego County Communities. This >$5M two-year partnership was enormously successful and led to several NIH and HRSA funded grants to address COVID inequities in testing, tracing and vaccination. In addition, we partnered with numerous collaborators on modeling efforts, surveys and behavioral interventions.”
They also met with the Cancer Health Equity Collaborative and queried members about their experiences trying to meet community needs. They then identified gaps and developed potential solutions together, including leveraging existing resources to address community needs and getting the word out through community partners. Then, they met with county colleagues to discuss the likely inequities that would result from the coming pandemic. From there, they developed community health worker (CHW)-led contact tracing to try to prevent some of these inequities. Communities Fighting COVID was developed at the Institute for Public Health, the practice arm of the SPH. The school and their community advisory board developed recruitment and hiring plans, created training and onboarding materials, developed protocols and procedures that were separate from but dovetailed with existing county policies. CHWs were on the ground within six weeks of contract execution.
Director Oren notes there have been challenges: “People want accurate, trusted information. They can handle nuance. And it should be delivered through trusted messengers, often individuals from affected communities. We need better data infrastructure, including timely collection, management, reporting and communication of information.”