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Board of Health receives vulnerable assessment report from health department

Vulnerable Population Outreach Coordinator (VPOC) Gwendolyn Krol, through her vulnerable population assessment, found that in Princeton the Hispanic and Latino population has been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, when compared to other ethnic groups.

Krol presented findings in her report to the Princeton Board of Health meeting on March 9. She had created the first of two online surveys three weeks ago to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the community agencies and the vulnerable populations they serve.

The department hired Krol through a two-year grant from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH). The vulnerable population needs assessment focus is to understand the impact of COVID-19 on at-risk residents and contain and mitigate COVID-19 through targeted outreach.

“Three weeks ago, I created an online survey gauging the impact of the pandemic on community agencies and the vulnerable populations in which they serve. I sent them to 21 community partners and I received 14 responses and still are receiving responses now,” Krol said.

Questions asked of community partners in the first survey included what vulnerable populations they serve in Princeton, what services they provide, what they see as the impact of COVID-19 on their vulnerable populations and general questions about how they feel about their local government, community and health care providers.

“In addition to the survey, I gathered information for my assessment from online databases in both the police, health and human services departments. I also did a walking assessment of the community,” she said.

Some of Princeton’s vulnerable populations include racial/ethnic minorities, seniors, the uninsured, undocumented, low-income individuals and families and individuals without internet or computer access.

“In Princeton the Hispanic and Latino population have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, when compared to other ethnic groups. They contribute to a disproportionally higher rate of positive cases and they also have an increased case mortality rate compared to the Princeton population as a whole,” she said. “Now the data that we have we do not see this reflection of disparity in Princeton’s Black or Asian communities, however this does not mean to say that these disparities do not exist it is just not in the data we have available now. In the future we could see the data change in this.”

According to the Princeton Health Department, the distribution of positive COVID-19 cases by race from March 10, 2020, to Jan. 22 was 65.3% White, 15.2% Hispanic or Latino, 13.9% Asian, and 5.6% Black or African American.

Krol also indicated that seniors have also been disproportionally affected. In the online survey to community agencies who provide services such as food access, affordable housing, utilities assistance, child care, education, and healthcare, they reported that one of their challenges had been communicating with the vulnerable populations they support.

“Now that almost all communications are virtual this really leaves out the residents who do not have access to the internet or computer or are not comfortable in using either. Additionally, they report a lack of funding, staff and supplies to meet the increased demand that we are seeing for these services for the pandemic,” Krol said.

The Princeton Health Department is also hosting free COVID-19 testing for under- and uninsured residents at Monument Hall on Mondays and Wednesdays.

There will also a collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton against racism to run a COVID-19 vaccine public art campaign.

“This is to instill hope and inspire at-risk residents. We are hoping to include artwork that has tag lines and messages in different languages,” Krol said. “And beyond the survey conducted required by the grant, I will also be conducting a separate survey that will be distributed directly to residents to learn more about their pandemic experiences and gather more data on that.”

For the second survey directly to residents, an online link will be provided to community partners to then send to their vulnerable populations. In addition, if Princeton is able to host more health department vaccine clinics, Krol would also conduct the survey at those locations.

“The survey is anonymous and will not be asking for names and phone numbers. That is just to get more responses for the surveys, protect the residents who are answering it and make them feel more comfortable with providing honest responses,” she said.

The survey will ask general demographics of age and income level. Any question can be skipped at any point if people are uncomfortable.

“It is a comparative survey. There will be one question that will say before March of 2020, before the pandemic did you experience any type of food insecurity? Then the next question says after March of 2020 during the pandemic did you experience any food insecurity,” Krol said. “So I cover food insecurity, healthcare, health insurance, access to the vaccine, quarantining, ability to afford housing and utilities, childcare, and ask do you trust local government and healthcare providers.”

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