Officials say that Orange County’s new online data platform, the OC Equity Map, has been a useful tool in highlighting social and health disparities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, but it could soon be used for more.
In addition to utilizing the map for COVID-19-related planning and the implementation of strategies, officials will be able to continue to assess the long-term ramifications of the pandemic in communities across Orange County, and that the map will help them to assess other societal impacts.
“It’s continuing to be used for COVID planning and implementation strategies,” Karin Kalk, director of Office Project Management and Quality Improvement at the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA), told The Epoch Times. “In terms of the impact of COVID in our community, that’s going to be felt for years to come. So the utility of this map for COVID, and COVID-related impacts and disparities are going to continue.”
The creators of the map are from Advance OC, a nonprofit established in 2019 with a mission to address inequities in Orange County communities through innovation, technology, and strategic philanthropy. The group plans to soon add more data to the platform, such as transportation and child care data.
“We’ll also start incorporating things like pediatric population health data for children, and potentially offer information about transportation corridor access. We will map more resources in the community,” Katie Kalvado, executive director of Advance OC, told The Epoch Times.
As part of their contract with the county, Kalvado stated that Advance OC will incorporate 2020 census data to the map as soon as available, which she said is expected to be released by the end of the year.
However, the additional work on the mapping tool, she said, will be paid for by the private sector.
The OC Equity Map was also developed with data from the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) to create a map specific to Orange County.
The Social Progress Imperative is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. aimed at “providing decision-makers and everyday citizens with the very best data on the social and environmental health of their societies and helping them prioritize actions that accelerate social progress,” according to the organization.
Orange County utilizes the map to guide its allocation of a $22.8 million grant it received from the CDC, meant to be used for COVID-19-associated inequalities.
On its website, the county touts the map as “a data-driven approach to addressing inequity and resource disparities” designed to “monitor Orange County’s health and social gaps.”
Although the map was officially launched in July, the county says it has used the map to look at a variety of data throughout the pandemic.
“Especially in summer and fall of last year, in HCA, our public health team, we were looking to place access to testing and creating greater awareness about how and why to get tested,” Kalk said. “It was the equity map [that] enabled us to prioritize and be fairly focused in our targeting the vaccine efforts.
“We used it to target communities with the testing strategies, especially in those in hard-hit areas. We used the map to target communities by ZIP code, and then within the ZIP code by neighborhood, where we want to place a mobile clinic or support our partners who are also providing vaccines to serve those communities.”
Building the Map
To assist the HCA in identifying the root causes of emerging disparities in Orange County believed to have resulted from the pandemic, the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with Advance OC on July 28, 2020.
The initial contract (pdf) from the county gave Advance OC $385,000 for their work in developing the data platform until Dec. 30, 2020.
“And we also supplemented that with private donations, and in-kind contributions, for example, some data research we got for the project was donated time and effort to help us, so it was not only 100 percent paid for by the county, there were private donations as well,” Kalvado said.
Outlined in the contract’s scope of work, Advance OC was tasked with creating a map that overlays Census and CDC data to provide information on community needs and disparities at county, city, neighborhood, and Census tract levels.
According to background in the contract, the SPI Equity Map allows inputs from various local, state, and national vetted sources to display a wide range of social indicators, including social determinants of health.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated several health and social inequities, which many municipalities and local organizations were unprepared to meet at the height of the pandemic,” Supervisor Andrew Do, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “Our OC Equity Map tool will provide actionable benchmarks to allocate resources and reduce disparities in our communities.”
In May 2020, the Board of Supervisors directed the HCA “to develop a Latino Health Equity Initiative (Initiative) to inform Orange County residents in Santa Ana and Anaheim about the increasing risk of COVID-19 and to encourage residents to take advantage of great accessibility to testing and support services now from the County,” according to a July 2020 staff report (pdf).
The report stated that in order to target the initiative’s efforts, HCA had identified “hot spots” of COVID-19 cases in ZIP codes they said were “disproportionately Hispanic, low-income, and more likely to live in more dense housing.”
The county tasked Advance OC to capture population outcome data in three broad dimensions, focusing on basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity.
The basic human needs aspect analyzed nutrition and basic medical care such as supermarket access, vaccination rates, and preventative medical and dental access; water and sanitation by identifying “food deserts,” groundwater threats, and impervious surfaces; housing and homelessness such as cost burdens, displacement risk, and homelessness density; and personal safety including traffic deaths and property and violent crime rates.
The foundation of well-being analysis included access to basic knowledge including high school graduation rates, preschool enrollment, and adult literacy rates; information and communications access such as average broadband access, cellular usage, and access to technology; health and wellness issues including obesity rates, diabetes prevalence, and access to mental health; and environmental qualities such as traffic volume, percentage of land with tree canopy, and carbon footprints.
The opportunity analysis took a look at personal rights such as voter registration, percentage of homeownership, and voter turnout; personal freedom of choice including child care deserts, walkability, and disconnected youth issues; inclusiveness such as residential isolation, vulnerable employment, and gender pay gap; and access to advance education such as percentage of bachelor’s degrees and access to tertiary- and globally-ranked schools.
“There are proxies that measure economics in terms of poverty rate, median household income … there are proxies to measure the economic impact and influence on certain outcomes in a better part of the 50 indicators that were used for the Orange County Social Progress Index to create the map,” Heiu Nguyen, director for the Office of Population Health and Equity, told The Epoch Times.
“The other purpose that we’re trying to say is there’s environmental and social conditions, there’s income indicators that impact health disparities, COVID being one of them.”
“So, there’s more utility to amass than just for COVID alone, it’s broader than just COVID-19. We have been able to use it to both identify vulnerable communities and communities with low vaccination rates,” Nguyen said.
To help users navigate the complexities of employing the OC Equity Map properly, an instructional manual is available on the website, and Advance OC conducts webinars and hosts online working sessions and in-person workshops in the community. The website also has a quick-fire Q&A that visitors to the site can utilize if they need guidance.
“Different groups host us and we do hands-on workshops to teach them how to use the map,” Kalvoda said.
Kalvoda acknowledged that using the map can at first be cumbersome.
“As you can imagine, the data is very, very complex. I can see how it could be a little challenging which is why we have the instruction manual, webinars, and workshops. But for people who are in the field, who do this kind of work, they’ve commented to us many times how easy the map is to navigate.”