Public Health Receives National Recognition for Innovation in Pandemic Response

Two Public Health – Seattle & King County teams are receiving national recognition for their innovative contributions to the COVID-19 pandemic response. The National Association of City and County Health Officials granted a Bronze Innovative Practice Award to Public Health’s Safe Start for Taverns and Restaurants team, and another to Public Health’s Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation unit for its work on the economic, social and overall health impacts data dashboard

SSTAR – Protecting the health of restaurant customers and staff

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on businesses and the local economy, with particular challenges for local restaurants and bars. In the summer of 2020, Public Health – Seattle & King County launched a program to help food businesses comply with health and safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. We called our program the Safe Start for Taverns and Restaurants program, also known as SSTAR.

The SSTAR program worked to protect the health of customers and staff, and to be a resource to owners and managers on how to manage their risk and minimize interruptions to their business. SSTAR Field Outreach teams provided information and in-person technical assistance to 3,400 food establishments on how to safely operate and comply with COVID-19 prevention measures. 

SSTAR and King County Office of Emergency Management distributed $400,000 in financial assistance to 143 small food establishments, to reimburse them for the expenses of COVID-19 mitigation and prevention. For thousands of food businesses in King County, the pandemic has presented an existential threat. Even small expenses can make the difference between survival and going out of business. That’s why the small grants administered by Public Health’s SSTAR program make an outsized difference. 

“I felt like they went above and beyond in helping people. This is a crisis time for cafes and restaurants,” said Debbie Natelson, owner of the Liberty Cafe in Renton and recipient of a SSTAR grant. 

The grant helped pay for supplies such as masks, sanitizer and gloves, and, crucially, a canopy to allow outdoor seating. 

“We put it up, and by golly, customers came and sat under that canopy! They were cold, but they were dry! We could not have bought this $200 canopy, the heater, these things that could help us keep a few more customers.”

Throughout, SSTAR worked to center equity by creating materials in multiple languages, using interpretive services, and prioritizing help to minority-owned, independent businesses. The program also organized webinars, created materials, highlighted exemplary small businesses on social media, and distributed more than $140,000 in COVID-19 prevention supplies to more than 2,000 food establishments.

Impacts Dashboard – Responding to the Response 

NACCHO recognized Public Health’s Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation (APDE) unit for its work on the economic, social and overall health impacts data dashboard

This dashboard tracks the broad impacts of the measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, school closures, and economic disruption. Public Health believes it is crucial to recognize and evaluate the negative impacts even of necessary, life-saving policies, and use data-driven decision making on how to mitigate these impacts. 

Some of the key insights revealed on the dashboard include: 

  • Unemployment rose drastically following the implementation of stay-at-home-measures, with over 1 in 4 King County workers filing claims for unemployment benefits. 
  • Workers who identified as American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or Black were most affected by unemployment. 
  • Housing and food-related needs increased significantly, with food insufficiency almost doubling since March 2020 and remaining high. 
  • Among households with children in grades K-12, 18% did not always have internet available for educational purposes.
  • It is estimated that the percent of working age adults without health insurance has doubled, and Medicaid enrollment among working age adults increased by 12% as of Jan 2021. 
  • Disparities continue in mental and behavioral health, domestic violence, and child abuse/neglect as well.

Just as the pandemic has had disparate impacts on parts of our population, the mitigation measures themselves present more hardship for some members of our community than others. The health impacts data project helps inform strategies and policies to minimize those harms and maximize health for all residents of King County. 

  • Social, economic, and overall health dashboard
  • Group of people standing on stairs
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  • Man and woman standing outside holding binders and papers

About the NACCHO Awards

The National Association of County and City Health Officials awarded 20 Bronze Innovative Practice Awards in 2021, including the two for Public Health – Seattle & King County. The awards celebrate local health departments for developing innovative programs to meet the needs of their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to NACCHO, “the designation as a Bronze Innovative Practice demonstrates a high level of program innovation and reflects the collaboration, adaptability, and program resilience.”

The awards highlight practices that are adaptable and provide replicable outcomes. You can read more about these award-winning practices at the Innovative Practices Database.

Originally published June 9, 2021