In an attempt to better understand how residents are experiencing the coronavirus pandemic, especially in communities of color, the city of Albany conducted an online COVID-19 Community Survey. Results are in.
According to Chief City Auditor Dorcey Applyrs, the survey will be used to make recommendations to the city on how to respond to the community's needs should a second wave occur. There were 445 respondents to the 5-minute online survey, which was offered in English, Spanish and Chinese. Bloomberg Harvard Fellow Christina Wu assisted Applyrs in conducting the survey. There were obstacles.
"Testing was a hot mess. First it was not accessible to communities of color, then it was only available if you already had symptoms. By the time you had symptoms, you might already be in the hospital. I had 28 people who had COVID-19 and 17 or 18 have died, all people of color."
Wu noted that communities of color have valid skepticism about public health.
"Testing felt anti-people of color, anti-Black. Who makes those decisions? Who decides where the testing goes? What's their background? Where are they from? While the decisions around testing here in Albany were made by the county and state government, the way that testing was rolled out in Albany serves as a powerful example of how communities of color can be overlooked if community voices are missing for decision-making and planning."
Wu says survey respondents tended to be older. 71 percent identified as female and 65 percent identified as white. There are some factors influencing the outcome: the online format appealed to those more comfortable with and having access to computer technology, which likely skewed toward better educated, higher income people.
One of the questions asked respondents to reflect on what the city should prioritize in the coming months.
"Community safety, COVID-19 testing and child care/education were deemed essential by the highest number of respondents."
Based on the survey results, short-term recommendations to the city include creating a centralized pandemic response committee with diverse leadership by people representing government, community, business and philanthropic interests and implementing a coordinated communications strategy to keep the public informed.
"This would involve advertising through diverse channels, including television, radio, paper-based materials, door-to-door outreach, newspapers, advertisements on buses..."
Which Wu says would be coupled with enhanced outreach and education to the importance of COVID-19 testing and the importance of contact tracing along with conducting a more inclusive community survey that would use telephone contact along with paper based questionnaires available in places high-need community members are already going to, like food banks and churches.
Applyrs concedes the survey wasn't perfect, but at least it was a start.
"There are some limitations an biases in the survey itself, the implementation of the survey and the results. And so we know that these findings are not generalizable to the entire city of Albany community. We know as a team walking in that we cannot make decisions solely on this particular survey, also keeping in mind that it was a short window, it was only for one week. However, what we've uncovered is I would say is some rich information that we can use to help guide decision-making moving forward. But what will be key is that we're hoping that the administration will seize this opportunity to do a more comprehensive survey, as Christina pointed out, that would involve not just sending out and electronic survey, but more grassroots outreach to engage people who don't have internet access who are least likely to complete an online survey."