Community assessment is a systematic process by which a community’s health status and related factors are examined; it is used to identify problems and assets in a community. Through community engagement, stakeholders work together to address health-related issues and promote well-being with the goal of improving health outcomes. These two processes work hand-in-hand to facilitate health improvements. COVID-19 has changed the assessment landscape in many ways–introducing new challenges for engagement, upending pre-pandemic implementation plans, and necessitating new and updated data to understand emerging health impacts and needs.
- Assessment under COVID-19: Understanding the primary, secondary, and ongoing impacts of COVID-19 in communities is important as we continue response and recovery work. Having timely, actionable data, equitably engaging communities despite challenges, and reimaging strategies for community health improvement is key.
- Equitable community engagement: Meaningfully engaging people in communities, particularly those with lived experience of inequities, is as important now as ever. Although COVID-19 has presented challenges for engagement, like social isolation, adaptive strategies that meet people where there are–physically and virtually–and center principles of equity in all settings–real and virtual–can help meet current needs.
- Catalysts for change: Community assessments–like Community Health Needs Assessments, Community Health Assessments, and Community Health Improvement Plans–should be catalysts for change, not just boxes to check. They are opportunities to bring community stakeholders together to ideate, collaborate and drive community change efforts forward.
Equity & Systems
Meaningful community engagement is essential to harvest the wisdom and expertise that lies in communities. People with lived experience of inequities are closest to the problems that need solving, and have awareness of what works, what doesn’t, and what resources are available in a community. Centering those who are most impacted–and often least invited–in all phases of community assessment and implementation helps to ensure an equitable approach that can transform systems.
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Disease Tracking and Surveillance
Disease surveillance helps us detect disease cases, understand burden of disease and risk factors, provide the basis for timely and informed decision-making, guide control measures, and monitor impacts. Since the onset of COVID-19, surveillance efforts have worked to provide real-time tracking and forecast data, despite challenges with diagnostic capacity, case reporting, insufficient contact tracing, and fragmented data systems. COVID-19 has highlighted the need to invest in modern data systems, expand and skill up the workforce, and ensure data reporting and interpretation retain high ethical and epidemiological standards.
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