OC Health Equity COVID-19 Community-Academic Partnership

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing social, economic, and political inequities in the United States, making COVID-19 a pandemic that shifted from primarily afflicting higher income communities to one that is concentrated in low-income communities of color. Racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and geographic inequities in risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, call for an equity approach to mitigating and eliminating the COVID-19 pandemic. A comprehensive public health equity approach to eliminating the COVID-19 pandemic involves preventing exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the first place; testing for COVID-19; treatment; manual contact tracing; supporting the conditions needed to quarantine, isolate and meet caregiving and occupational responsibilities; building immunity across the population; and a recovery that builds community power. 

About the Partnership

Community advocates and academic leaders formed the Orange County Health Equity COVID-19 Community-Academic Partnership in May 2020 to act on these aims. The Partnership draws participation from community-based health equity organizations, coalitions, and university faculty, staff, and students from a range of disciplines. We believe that building local resilience in response to the pandemic is not about bouncing back to pre-pandemic conditions. Rather, it is about bouncing forward to create the public health and safety interventions that we need in order to eliminate disparities and build health equity. We believe that when local actions reflect this orientation, Orange County will be better positioned to:

  1. Refrain from increasing and exacerbating harm to local communities of color, marginalized communities, and low-income communities that are already suffering disproportionately from the virus and social and economic hardships; and
  2. Spur and foster social cohesion, inclusion, and trust in our public health and safety pandemic responses in ways that increase the power, participation, and long-term vitality of such communities.

About the Health Equity Contact Tracing Workshop

In Summer 2020, the UCI Program in Public Health partnered with the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) and the Orange County Health Equity COVID-19 Community-Academic Partnership to develop a Health Equity Contact Tracing Workshop. Integrating community knowledge from Orange County health equity leaders about the impacts of the pandemic and pandemic mitigation strategies on low-income communities of color with established models of manual contact tracing and the latest knowledge about COVID-19 spread and mitigation, this Workshop was designed with a fundamental focus on health equity. The Health Equity Contact Tracing Workshop was developed to serve the wide range of community leaders and public health practitioners whose work is needed across the full spectrum of pandemic mitigation, elimination, and equitable recovery. This includes those working to educate the broader public about evolving information about COVID-19; identify and notify individuals who have been exposed to the virus; support low-income communities of color disparately affected by COVID-19 in mitigating their exposures, quarantining, isolating, and recovering from the pandemic; and organizing community members to develop new systems, structures, and cultures needed to prevent and respond with resilience to future pandemics and disasters. Bringing together public health practitioners, community leaders and residents, and students, this popular education curriculum was delivered in a hybrid format of asynchronous online content and live group-based discussions and role playing sessions. It was available free to the public from July 20 to August 21, 2020. 

Workshop Objectives

The Workshop aimed for participants to…

  • Gain foundational knowledge of health science related to the COVID 19 virus, and health equity as both an outcome and approach to guide COVID-19 response efforts
  • Build essential skills to serve as health equity-focused contact tracers, supporting COVID 19 patients to minimize spread of the virus in their communities
  • Help to shape and communicate a proactive narrative around the causes of and strategies to address COVID-19 as part of a larger community-driven effort to achieve health through racial equity
  • Cultivate a community organizing approach to engaging community members in transforming the conditions that have led to disproportionate COVID-19 impacts on Black, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander, immigrant, and Indigenous communities

Learn more here.

Additional Collaborations 

Community-based participants in the Community-Academic Partnership continue to lead direct service to and advocacy for Orange County’s disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color. In addition, building on the community mobilization that emerged during the Summer 2020 Health Equity Contact Tracing Workshop, participants in the Community-Academic Partnership shifted focus during Fall 2020 to support the incubation of a resident-led, worker-owned cooperative for community-driven COVID-19 response in the cities of Santa Ana and Anaheim. Partnership participants also shifted focus to co-designing and seeking resources to support additional community-identified health equity-focused training needs for pandemic response. During Winter 2021, Community-Academic Partnership participants heightened focus on increasing vaccine equity and addressing vaccine hesitancy here in Orange County.