The latest set of reports in the Sentinel Communities: COVID-19 Community Response series focuses on how these nine communities have supported children and families during the pandemic. The evidence is showing us that helping families recover helps our society recover. Though some see this as a divergent path, the truth is that health, social, and economic policies go hand in hand.
What We’re Learning
Families’ needs and science should drive local decisions.
No one had a playbook for how to manage a pandemic, so across the country, states, cities, school districts, businesses, and parents have approached managing COVID-19 in vastly different ways.
When the pandemic hit, Harris County, Texas, leaders were acutely aware of the challenges children and families faced. This was reflected in their response efforts, which prioritized public health and sought to advance equity. For instance, the Houston Independent School District kept an eye on virus case counts and waited until October 2020 to start in-person instruction to control the spread of COVID-19, even though state guidance allowed in-person instruction earlier. In January 2021, the district even began offering rapid COVID-19 testing for teachers, administrators, and some students. Harris County leaders focused on the experiences of their own community members and what they needed to stay safe and healthy.
Equity must be integrated into a community’s work from the ground up.
Achieving equity is a journey. At its core, this work is really about systemic change. In our research, we have observed that some communities have been intentional and vocal about integrating equity into their COVID-19 responses—particularly those that have a history of prioritizing equity.
Although Milwaukee is one of the nation’s most segregated cities, COVID-19 has spurred even more work, investments, and conversations about supporting the city’s Black and Brown residents. For instance, the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association targeted grants to child care providers in eight Milwaukee zip codes with the highest concentration of Black and Latino residents and the highest rates of COVID-19. And in June 2020, Milwaukee County recognized Juneteenth as a holiday and issued an order declaring racism as a public health crisis.
COVID-19 has spurred incredible ingenuity that we can carry forward.
In spite of how challenging the past year has been, an overwhelming number of people view the pandemic as an opportunity for our society to improve. We’re hopeful that some of the solutions we’ve witnessed communities devise are glimmers of more long-term, positive change.
Recognizing how much our lives have shifted online, many communities have stepped up to ensure that people have access to reliable internet during COVID-19. In Finney County, Kan., where one-fifth of households lacked internet access pre-pandemic, a local grant program provided up to $10,000 per household to cover basic expenses, including internet. Through a local education foundation, Tampa, Fla., went a step further than providing students with tablets and hotspots. They also sent bilingual teams to families’ homes to teach them how to use their new technology. Communities like Finney County and Tampa are laying the foundation for bridging the digital divide for children and families.
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