Summit County Public Health Leaders Discuss Rural County’s Coordinated Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic – Conditions for Improvement

Utah’s Summit County Health Department (SCHD) released a report earlier this month detailing its coordinated response during the pandemic. According to SCHD Public Health Emergency Manager Chris Crowley, who led the local effort, the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was key to achieving a positive outcome early on.

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Crowley said, ‘From the beginning we took a very aggressive approach. “On the very first day in January of 2020, we adopted [National Incident Management System Incident Command Structure] Which allowed us to have a good division of responsibilities and distribution. The complexity of planning and responding and communicating through that system allowed us to be very effective.”

Crowley, who had been a member of the Olympic organizing committee since the last Olympic Games, said his background in planning a major international sporting event helped coordinate the rural county’s response.

“I applied the same planning principle that we do with the Olympics where we have a lot of organization and a lot of moving parts. [where] Everyone plans in their own silo and then we integrate that and build from that a large and effective response effort,” Crowley said. “It’s an event-based planning structure that works for large events , and COVID is no different.”

SCHD outlined a detailed timeline of its response regarding the peaks and valleys of the county’s case in its COVID-19 After-Action Report Executive Summary, Over a time period from February 2020 to March 2022, the summary revealed a series of public health measures aimed at reducing the spread of infection and subsequent vaccination.

The response plan to SCHD was designed around CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response The guidance, which outlines 15 operational capabilities across 6 domains of public health preparedness: community resilience, incident management, information management, response and mitigation, escalation management and biosurveillance.

The county reported 14,158 cases, 332 hospitalizations and 26 deaths related to COVID-19 in that time period. The county’s vaccination rate is 90% for a population of approximately 43,000, with rates for the adult and senior (age 65 and older) populations at 94% and 107%, respectively (over estimated population).

on wednesday Health and Human Services Interim Committee introduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would authorize a policy and governance review of public health departments. If passed, the legislation could affect how and how much money is distributed to SCHD.

Crowley said there was a high level of community support and volunteerism in its Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) which contributed to the success of measures such as its drive-through screening and mass vaccination rollout. He said SCDH would seek to build its MRC capabilities and advocated for more resources.

“People were committed but a lot of them were spontaneous volunteers,” Crowley said. “We had to focus a lot of our efforts on providing timely training. Once you get on the ground, we train you and you start making deliveries. So we are looking to build our MRC capability. And that’s something that we’ve focused resources on and that’s one of our priorities.

A second element is community outreach, especially among our vulnerable populations and non-English speaking populations. We know we’ve had challenges penetrating those populations and we want to make sure we do our best to enhance not only communication but two-way communication and trust building.

The report will be used to strengthen the department’s response capabilities for future outbreaks. With the busy ski season expected to attract large numbers of visitors to the county, Crowley hopes the department will avoid another winter surge, but is confident it can respond if it happens.

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