Using the U.S. COVID Atlas in the Arkansas Delta
In June 2020, my two living grandparents contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus. I drove down from Wisconsin to check on them and to help coordinate their care. I was scared and concerned regarding their health and well-being.
Once I arrived in Crittenden County in Arkansas, my grandfather was hospitalized in Shelby County, Tennessee, after not being able to eat or drink. The isolation protocols meant that no one could visit him in the hospital, and I was afraid that I would never see him again.
With no ability to visit my grandfather in the hospital and my grandmother at her home with a relatively mild case of COVID, I decided to put my public health training to use. The Crittenden County NAACP branch and the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP graciously allowed me to serve as their health advisor as we collectively sought to take a course of action to protect the health of Arkansans in the Delta.
We first drafted a press release statement. As the health advisor, I drafted the statement using charts and data from the U.S. COVID-19 Atlas. Specifically, I highlighted the rising tide of COVID in 3 Arkansas Delta counties along with Shelby County, Tennessee (where many Arkansans are taken for emergency hospitalization given the low number of hospital beds in the Arkansas Delta). The charts I used can be seen below.
After using these simple charts to highlight the spike in COVID cases in our press release statement, we convened a press conference where we asked Governor Hutchinson to take 5 action steps to make the Arkansas Delta matter.
Two news stations picked up our June 29 press conference where we discussed data from the U.S. COVID-19 Atlas and our 5 Actions Steps. Fox 13 recounted my story, while ABC 24 highlighted the role of the Crittenden County and Arkansas State NAACP (see below).
I am glad to report that both of my grandparents made a full recovery from COVID-19! I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the U.S. COVID Atlas team for creating a user friendly tool that I could share with my colleagues and family in the Arkansas Delta. We were able to raise awareness and call attention to the needs of an often neglected area in the state.
We were also able to use data from the Atlas to compel Governor Hutchinson to respond to our 5 Action Steps. Although his official August 5 response left a lot to be desired, it represented a victory for Arkansans in the Delta as it represented the power of grassroots community mobilization informed by near real time data and charts obtained from the U.S. COVID-19 Atlas.
Lawrence Brown, PhD, MPA is a Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute