New data shows broader social, economic, health impacts of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19

Nearly everyone in our community has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It might be from COVID-19 illness, or from local and state efforts to slow its spread. We all are experiencing social distancing, school closures, business closures, or isolation and quarantine.

Public Health – Seattle & King County has created a new set of data tools that show some of the broader impacts in King County – focusing on social, economic, and overall health and well-being.

Key topics include unemployment, housing and food needs, internet access, family violence, depression, and having health insurance.

New data dashboard links to multiple data sources

Highlights are visible at a glance on a new data dashboard (click on any individual data point to get additional information).

Some examples include:

  • In April, we were already seeing 5% increases in people accessing food supports and 5,200 additional people enrolling in Medicaid health insurance.
  • More than 310,000 King County residents filed for unemployment from March 1 to May 9, 2020. (The data also show the highest proportions were among workers in the food and hotel industries.)
  • Highway traffic in King County was 30% lower on May 18 than a year ago at this time, and in late March it was more than 50% lower than the previous March. (The data also shows trends in transit, ferry and Amtrak ridership.)

These measures were selected based on scientific studies from previous outbreaks that link strategies aimed at reducing the spread of disease (such as social distancing, school and business closures) to specific outcomes.

For example, business closures and social distancing can lead to increased unemployment and decreased traffic volume. Job losses may make it challenging to afford basic needs such as housing and food. People may experience negative mental or physical health effects, such as worsening chronic disease conditions or experiencing anxiety or depression due to social isolation.

Public Health is actively collaborating with community partners to hear their concerns and develop resources to support their needs. The social, emotional, and psychological impacts of the pandemic are far-reaching and complex.

Interpreting the data and addressing the impacts

In each of these areas, local, state, and federal agencies are taking important actions to limit the impacts and limit the harm.

Unemployment eligibility was expanded and the process streamlined. King County and cities offered tax relief, eviction moratoriums, and individual financial and food assistance programs. Those actions are discussed in a series of brief reports that will accompany the data.

The brief reports will include context and analysis for specific topics. The first report focuses on unemployment during early 2020 (and also includes an infographic).

Many of the pandemic-related dashboards show disparities by race, place, gender, disability status, health status, socioeconomic status, and other demographic characteristics.

Over the next two years, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington State Department of Health, more data sources will be added to the dashboard.

Originally published on May 20, 2020.

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.