DPH, University of Delaware plan COVID community assessments

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DOVER — The Delaware Division of Public Health is partnering with the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Healthy Communities and its epidemiology program to conduct a series of health assessments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

DPH said the State Health Improvement Plan will help officials better understand the concerns and needs of residents during the pandemic and work to improve their overall health. Each of Delaware’s three counties will be surveyed.

Households that have been randomly selected to participate in the voluntary surveys will receive postcards in the mail, followed by packets with instructions on how to complete the questionnaires online or by mail. Incentives will be provided for completed surveys.

The first set will be mailed to Kent County households this week. During the week of Feb. 25, students and volunteers will canvass Kent County neighborhoods to approach the selected households that haven’t turned in the surveys by mail or online.

New Castle County’s packets will be mailed the week of Feb. 7, before canvassing the week of March 11. Sussex County’s mailing will be the week of Feb. 21, with canvassing the week of March 25.

DPH said the goal of SHIP is to prioritize the areas — such chronic disease, maternal and child health, mental health and substance use disorder — where more work is needed to make Delawareans healthier.

“Delaware’s current five-year State Health Improvement Plan covers 2018 through 2023 and was initially developed prior to the pandemic,” said DPH director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “Community assessments related to COVID-19 and broader conditions now impacting the health of Delawareans are critical to helping inform the current plan and (to) guide the next state health needs assessment and planning process.”

In addition to assessments being conducted at the household level to determine COVID-19 mitigation efforts, perceptions of risk and preventive actions taken by Delaware households, two series of community conversations will be scheduled soon to learn more about broader health impacts.

“We are grateful that our students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience by conducting a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response in Delaware for the first time,” said Dr. Jennifer Horney, founding director of the epidemiology program at UD. “It is important that these students, who are the state’s future public health workforce, embrace working directly with residents and communities to collect data that can be used for decision-making by public health leaders and emergency managers.”