By Samantha Hum
UC Davis and the City of Davis are collaborating to fight the spread of COVID-19 in an effort called “Healthy Davis Together.”
Healthy Davis Together, a joint effort between the city of Davis and the university, is a project with a goal to “prevent the spread of COVID-19 and facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular city activities and reintegration of UC Davis students back into the Davis community.” Healthy Davis Together is a supplement to, not a replacement for, COVID-19 efforts by UC Davis.
They have been meeting and planning this widespread program since July 20, 2020. The implementation phase started Sep. 15 to help integrate students back into the city of Davis for the fall quarter.
Dr. Brad Pollock, Associate Dean of Public Health Sciences for the UC Davis School of Medicine, spoke at the Sep. 15 City Council meeting about the plan.
It targets the general Davis population, commuters, UC Davis students and employees, businesses and their employees, and other groups/stakeholders in the Davis community.
From an epidemiology standpoint, Healthy Davis Together hopes to extend campus screening efforts into the community. The plan is to offer universal community-based screening in the entire community of Davis, including both residents and individuals who do not live in the city but work here.
“You’ve heard about the campus plan, but our intent is to roll this out and have isolation and quarantine capability in the city,” Pollock said. He mentioned they have been working with a number of hotels and large apartment owners in order to come up with a solution.
Noting University of Arizona’s success in avoiding an outbreak with environmental modeling, Pollock also mentioned they would be expanding environmental modeling from the campus to the city.
Health communications messaging and other tools will be used to encourage higher rates of vaccination for both the flu and COVID-19. In regards to the mandated flu shots for students, Pollock mentioned that it is not required for the residents of the city but is highly advised.
In terms of health behavior change, Dr. Pollock emphasized the importance of the correct behavior by stating, “They say you can’t test your way out of an epidemic and that’s true. Health behavior is the thing that’s driven the surge that we had… Health behavior is really the thing that’s driving the pandemic.”
Pollock’s team is partnering with GMMB, a Washington D.C. political communication and advertising firm, that did most of the public service announcements for the CDC and the California Department of Public Health.
He also stressed the importance of innovative technology and its role in testing, stating, “We have to stay on top of that… to ensure that we’re at the most useful and cost efficient way of moving forward.”
A series of outcome metrics will be used to evaluate the program, from the standpoint of process metrics to see how it is functioning and impact metrics. These include epidemiologic, economic, health systems and community culture.
The program also includes a plan for incentives to encourage positive health behavior change.
One key strategy involves working with the City to develop a sister program to the Aggie Public Health Ambassadors (APHA) program (where 150 students assist with education and outreach) for city staff.
Business incentives would include contests with cash prizes, employee-led contests and offering advertising and other exposure. Students would also be incentivized with gift cards to local businesses in order to keep the economic benefits within the city.
K-12 students would be incentivized through school testing challenges. In addition, the Blue Devils Public Health Ambassadors would give high schoolers an opportunity to participate in activities similar to the APHA.
Dr. Pollock and his team will also be working with the city to expand the County Green Check Program.
This project would connect with businesses that abide by public health standards to test employees regularly, reinforce positive behaviors, and use exposure monitoring apps. It would also offer to buy services/goods to support other student and city incentive programs.
Lastly, Dr. Pollock mentioned that the program would attempt to deal specifically with special populations, stating, “We are very, very, mindful that these populations have incredible struggles or just don’t have flexibilities.” These include congregate living (senior living, nursing facilities, group homes, board and care facilities), daycare and K-12, farmworkers, and the homeless population.
If Healthy Davis Together is successful, Pollock believes that we will have lowered the burden of COVID-19 through lowered incidence and reduced morbidity, an improved economic environment, increased community resilience, a higher level of public health competency and expanded infrastructure to sustain health improvements beyond this pandemic.
Healthy Davis Together may serve as a model for other college towns and communities for COVID-19.
Pollock ended the presentation with this statement: “There is not one element that is so unique by itself, but the fact that we’re doing all these things at the same time, and seeing that we’ll get synergy in terms of the effects. That’s what we’re looking for here.”