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Data helping guide decisions in COVID-19 response

April 2020

Every weekday afternoon, a group of Hennepin County leaders participate in an online incident command meeting to coordinate the county’s response to COVID-19. They evaluate current work being done, discuss emerging issues, and plan how to ensure limited resources are focused where they’re most needed. To do this, the team relies on data.

Two county data specialists spend every morning gathering up-to-date information so the incident command team can make informed decisions.

“First, we need to know what the county is trying to accomplish — such as providing essential services without face-to-face interactions or protecting the county’s most at-risk residents,” said Erik Erickson, the county’s chief data officer. “Then we determine what data can help inform those efforts.”

Coronavirus metrics report

The team uses reports and dashboards from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with information from regional hospitals. They also rely on subject-matter experts in county departments to provide context on county facilities and programs.

“We’re paying close attention to our daily trends so we can adjust how we provide services,” said Erickson. “A key focus of our planning is to make sure we are prepared when the peak of the outbreak arrives.”

Coronavirus hospital trends

An informed response

Early in the outbreak, the team focused on identifying county residents who are at high risk for coronavirus and who can’t easily self-isolate.

From that research, the county developed a plan to work with area hotels to provide alternate accommodations for residents of homeless shelters who are unable to self-isolate, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. An additional hotel is dedicated to residents of shelters with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

There are currently nearly 300 healthy but high-risk residents housed at the hotel sites.

This approach is designed to both protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community and reduce the strain on the broader health-care system.

The team is also tracking what approaches have been successful in other counties and analyzing the data for insights into how the crisis affects demand for services.

Coronavirus forecast

Just as the health-care system has been inundated by an influx of patients, government agencies are experiencing a surge in requests for assistance — such as financial support, food, safe housing, and child care assistance.

It’s the county’s responsibility to provide support for residents in need, and accurate data helps ensure we do it effectively.