As the COVID-19 pandemic prompts governments to close schools, shutter restaurants, ban many gatherings and curtail travel, researchers at the University of Washington want to understand the impact of the disease and these new restrictions on our lives. The King County COVID-19 Community Study — or KC3S — is gathering data through April 19 on how individuals and communities throughout King County, Washington are coping with the measures put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We want to start collecting this information now — as the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding — about how families and communities are being impacted, and how they are adapting,” said Nicole Errett, a lecturer in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, who is one of the leaders of the new study. “Our goal is to understand how individuals are dealing with these new and far-reaching public health response measures and document how communities are rising together to meet unprecedented challenges.”
Errett is working with Tania Busch Isaksen, who is a senior lecturer in the department and a UW clinical assistant professor of health services. Any adult King County resident can take part in the study, which consists of an online questionnaire and a written piece, prepared by the participant, of up to a page in length.
The study’s goals are to determine the ways in which communities, families and individuals are being impacted by the disease and capture community displays of resilience. Ultimately, the researchers hope to use the results to provide recommendations to public health officials on measures that can promote well-being while still protecting the public at-large.
The online questionnaire, which can be found on the KC3S website, asks participants about particular behaviors they may have engaged in — such as hand-washing and avoiding large crowds — as the pandemic unfolded, as well as concerns they have about COVID-19, their well-being and demographic information. The questionnaire is currently available in English and Spanish, with other languages planned, according to Errett.
The written description — which can be as short as a sentence or as long as a page — invites participants to describe in their own words the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them, and how they, their families and communities are adapting and coping.
“The story that we’re asking each participant to submit is actually the central piece of the study,” said Errett. “We’re inviting participants to use their own words to share how they’re being impacted by the pandemic, and how they’re adapting and coping.”
“We’re also interested in learning about the experience of public health workers, healthcare workers, emergency managers and first responders,” said Busch Isaksen.
The researchers plan to analyze the stories to see if common problems, issues and displays of resilience arise as public health restrictions were put into place.
Humanity has faced pandemics before, such as with influenza in 1918. But the COVID-19 pandemic is the largest such event in modern times. The social-distancing measures put in place are an opportunity to study their effects, according to Errett.
Though these restrictions are put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, concerns have been raised about their unintended effects. For example, social-distancing measures may leave certain at-risk populations, such as the elderly, feeling isolated, which can negatively impact mental health and well-being. As businesses close, hourly workers are concerned about income and job security.
Few studies have measured how current public health restrictions impact well-being, or how communities could try to come together to help individuals adapt, according to Errett.
“What we find will hopefully inform recommendations to public health officials going forward, so that we can remain safe — and also thrive,” said Errett.
King County residents who would like to participate in the study should visit the KC3S site at https://deohs.washington.edu/covid-19.