Among the many hardships of the COVID-19 crisis was that it depleted city resources at exactly the moment cities were called upon to respond to and recover from an unprecedented event. Faced with staff and budget cuts, many cities were nevertheless working tirelessly on behalf of their residents to raise awareness, provide guidance, flatten the curve, and plan for / execute vaccine rollout.
We worked with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Johns Hopkins University, and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative to help Youngstown, Ohio, among other U.S. cities, use data, digital, and delivery tools to take on the COVID-19 crisis.
Youngstown, OH is a city with a nearly 65K population, many of whom are considered high risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19. The Health Department was stretched thin trying to manage hundreds of calls and emails from concerned residents, while at the same time organizing public health messaging and delivering key services - such as testing, community resources, and vaccinations. One lone city staffer was heroically attempting to schedule each and every vaccine appointment over the phone.
The city began by launching a local communications hub for all things COVID-19 – a single source of truth for local case rates, updated public health guidance, testing sites, and more. They also developed SMS messages to send to residents, creating a regular cadence of clear, factual, up-to-date information.
As vaccines became available, the city added an online vaccine booking tool, which automates the scheduling process, allowing eligible residents to book vaccine appointments in less than a minute. The tool automatically sends email and SMS appointment reminders, which residents have found helpful.
The tool not only helps residents access vaccines, but also helps vaccination sites track demand, and helps the city as a whole track the distribution of first and second doses. The booking tool was replicated for the University of Youngstown.
The city added an analytics platform to track cases, deaths, and vaccine rollout, specifically identifying disparities by race and ethnicity to drive vaccine equity.
The city has increased resident engagement and vaccine booking in a time when staff were faced with unprecedented demands on their time and attention. Zip code tagging in the vaccine booking tool also helps the city plan for demand, identify high-impact vaccine locations and time slots, track equity, and target outreach. The city has expanded from one to eight unique vaccination sites, reaching different areas to improve vaccine access.
I am incredibly grateful for all that you have done to support us throughout this challenging time. Thank you for your patience and understanding and bearing with us on days we were slow, distant, or sleep-deprived or brain-boggled. And, for responding to our anticipated needs through the development and execution of a communication and data use strategy (inclusive of the online scheduling tool which was built even before fully recognizing the value of transitioning from manual processes). We tend to be reactive, given so many competing requests/needs at once; your leadership has clarified our goals and helps us to establish priorities to guide our efforts in a more deliberate, proactive, and strategic way - and to actually USE data to drive decisions...You have also multiplied our limited capacity (mine included) tenfold+. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Youngstown is so lucky to have had your expertise!
-Emily Frantz, City of Youngstown Epidemiologist