Public Health reflects on lessons learned from COVID-19 response in summary report

Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) is excited to share an After-Action Report summarizing key information from the first two years (January 2020 – January 2022) of PHSKC’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

The After-Action Report was created to better understand the efforts undertaken by Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic, record the contributions and roles of those who responded, and identify ways to strengthen future responses to public health emergencies. The document captures strengths, lessons learned, and recommendations raised by stakeholders and partners.

A summary of the report is available in English, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

The After-Action Report is informed by an extensive review process. As part of this process, reflections and recommendations were collected from hundreds of staff across our department via interviews, facilitated discussions with response teams, and a department-wide survey. Additionally, partners representing community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, governmental and tribal partners, healthcare providers, and other key partners shared feedback based on their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic response through “town halls” facilitated by an external consulting firm.

The report reviews how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in King County and Washington State, presents an analysis of findings, identifies key strengths of the response, and includes a list of recommended actions for PHSKC to address as areas for improvement.

Significant strengths and innovations that benefited the pandemic response are noted in the report, including:

  • PHSKC’s collaboration across departments and leadership through achievements such as the nation’s first civilian isolation and quarantine system, targeted vaccination goals, and commitment to equity, helping to maintain the lowest death rate due to COVID-19 of the twenty largest metropolitan areas of the country (as of January 2022).
  • PHSKC’s award-winning COVID-19 data dashboards that helped to keep the public informed and enabled data-informed public health decision-making, focusing response efforts on those most impacted by the pandemic.
  • The role of Community Navigators—people representing diverse populations and embedded in their communities—recognized by staff, partners, and stakeholders for their role bridging the gap between public health efforts and communities most impacted by the pandemic.
  • PHSKC’s Language Access Team that raised the standard for language accessibility through innovation and collaboration with key partners, translating public health information into forty languages with short turnarounds.

The report also highlights recommendations that impact all areas of the COVID-19 response and regular ways in which we serve our communities, covering themes such as relationship building, standardization of processes, hiring and onboarding, team or staffing capacity, safety or wellbeing concerns, equity, and coordination/collaboration. Significant areas of improvement noted in the report include:

  • Addressing barriers to achieving equity in PHSKC’s response by emphasizing equity, seeking community input in decision-making, increased equity training for staff, and increasing representation of BIPOC providers in the Public Health Reserve Corps.
  • Increasing Access and Functional Needs planning to ensure residents with disabilities have access to information and interventions such as testing and vaccines through improved translation and interpretation services, site accessibility, representation on public health dashboards, and transportation to make use of resources and support.
  • Ensuring workloads and response demands remain reasonable, and PHSKC teams have adequate staffing and resources to meet increased response demands while still being able to practice self-care and take time away from the job.
  • Reducing administrative burdens and streamlining the hiring and onboarding process to enable PHSKC to scale up staffing quickly and equitably to meet response needs.

While this report is not inclusive of all work related to COVID-19, the After-Action Report highlights the emerging practices that benefitted the pandemic response, and which should be continued, enhanced, or changed for future pandemic responses. We are committed to ensuring our efforts are aligned with the King County True North and Values, and are consistent with a culture of quality improvement that is grounded in principles of transparency and accountability.

We are tremendously grateful to staff from across Public Health and other King County departments, our partners, and the community, all of whom contributed their time and expertise to the COVID-19 response.

We hope that this COVID-19 After-Action Report will present opportunities to further improve future PHSKC emergency response efforts, as well as the critical work of Public Health in serving communities in our routine work.

The After-Action Report can be found on PHSKC’s COVID-19 data reports webpage, along with a summary available in English, Spanish, Amharic, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

Originally published December 30, 2022