Public Health Director's COVID-19 Q&A

May 22, 2020 by Melissa Crowe

Public Health Director's COVID-19 Q&A

The first priority of public officials’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic is taking care of people.

Once cases started picking up and community spread occurred, data added to the list of priorities as a crucial component to mounting an effective response. Communities — and public leaders — want to know what’s happening, where cases are occurring, and how to slow the spread.

San Bernardino County Department of Public Health Director Trudy Raymundo sat down with Tyler Technologies to share how her community leveraged data, set metrics, and made data-driven policy around their response to the novel coronavirus.

What was the county’s approach for sharing data with the public?

We were trying to be mindful in in terms of what reaction the communities would have as we presented data. We were concerned about the potential for panic among community members. We were concerned about the privacy of individuals and whether reporting on cases in each city would violate that privacy or put members of the community at risk for harm.

Ultimately, our milestone was in looking at whether we reached 100 cases and whether we could report a positive in every community we had. Within the first week, we had 100 cases. We hit that milestone and started presenting data. With that, we knew we had community spread, and we could alleviate some of the fears we were working with.

Any data we can share with the community has been important for them. For example, they wanted data on testing —  how many tests are we doing, where is the testing happening.

How is San Bernardino County sharing data with key decision makers?

We set up a dashboard that shows number of tests done, who is being tested, and where the positives are. California has established certain goals and milestones, and was looking to set up metrics to how we move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 when it comes to relaxing any orders.

One milestone is around testing. We need more information on racial disparities in testing. Entire racial groups and subpopulations are not getting testing. They may not have access to reliable transportation to get to one of our drive-thru events.

We need to understand where our gaps are so we can be more targeted in our response.

How do you begin to move toward recovery?

It has to be driven by data, to be really candid. We have to be on the same page of the metrics we’re going to use.

At that statewide level, we have to have a per capita goal when it comes to testing and be sure there’s sufficient hospital and surge capacity. We need to know that for every potential positive case, we have the appropriate ratio of FTEs to do contact tracing.

We’re hoping to create real metrics so we’re doing this collectively as a state. All of our folks travel back and forth from county to county. One county that may start to loosen something, may see additional cases come in because of increasing risk of exposure if a person travels to surrounding counties and puts others at risk.

There are so many moving parts and so many folks. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right.

How do you balance a data-driven approach with a human-centric mindset?

We can’t look at people independent of the data, and we can’t look at data independent of people. How we do that is always up for questions.

Income is a social determinant of health, yet we’re asking people to stay at home and businesses to close down. Some of the things we’re putting into place as a local health department is that we want to see a mindful, thoughtful approach to relaxing or modifying any of these stay-at-home orders; simply for the fact that if we open too soon, we’ll be right back to where we started.

Let’s have science and data drive it because we know from science that often time pandemics come in waves, and there is no one that has the bandwidth or the stamina to go through a second wave of it.

We’re talking about lives, and we need to be thoughtful about it.

Related Content