From school and community reopening to promoting health equity, we helped inform the efforts of local and national leaders.


COVID-Lab: Informing Efforts to Protect and Reopen Communities Across the U.S.

In spring 2020, a team of researchers at PolicyLab, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, launched COVID-Lab: Mapping COVID-19 in Your Community. Knowing the incredible impact local factors can have on the health of children and families, the team built the model to track and project COVID-19 transmission across more than 800 counties in the U.S. At launch, the model offered the only publicly available data in the country that forecasted risk in small geographic areas.

Through weekly updates, COVID-Lab became a critical tool for federal, state and local leaders—from the White House Coronavirus Task Force to state public health departments to county commissioners. For example, when the model showed a projected risk of resurgence in the summer of 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced new COVID-19 mitigation policies that were directly informed by PolicyLab’s forecasts. The model also served as an instrumental tool for national and local reporters alike, with media outlets including the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post calling on PolicyLab experts to provide the latest on COVID-19 case trends. In a year of swiftly changing landscapes, PolicyLab remained rooted in the data of COVID-Lab to help leaders make evidence-informed decisions based on their local context to protect communities.

(Webpage) Covid-Lab: Mapping Covid-19 in Your Community

It is that model that we then go across the south and meet with every single governor and local mayor and community and say, ‘This is what the model says,’ and they did exactly that, or some type of that, and dramatically brought cases down. I think that’s what every governor and mayor is looking at, but I really want to applaud that group, because they really helped us think through this, and really take new ideas into the field.

Headshot of Dr. Deborah Birx

Dr. Deborah Birx

Former White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator

Engaging With Policymakers

While we have worked most closely with decision-makers to provide guidance, research, and data around COVID-19 and related issues of equity in the past year, we continued to engage with them on a wide range of issues impacting children and families. To name just a few examples, Program Manager Tara Dechert, MS, participated in a virtual roundtable, “Early Learning Opportunities and Young Children Experiencing Homelessness,” hosted by U.S. Representative Dwight Evans and the People’s Emergency Center, contributing her expertise on the role home visiting can play in addressing this issue. In addition, Nadia Dowshen, MD, MSHP, testified about the importance of and the evidence behind gender-affirming care before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health Care.

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Making Actionable Policy Recommendations

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health disparities for children and families. Committed to confronting this issue, PolicyLab experts have taken a leadership role in the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Health Equity and COVID-19 Response Team to inform state plans and provide recommendations to the governor to address health disparities illuminated and/or worsened by the pandemic. PolicyLab facilitated a subcommittee on economically challenged individuals, low-wage workers and un- and underinsured populations, and offered expertise to other subcommittees tackling topics critical to the health of Pennsylvanians. In addition to addressing concerns specific to COVID-19 and vaccine access, many of the Health Equity Response Team’s suggestions for the governor strive to address longer-term, underlying issues related to insurance coverage, paid leave, access to health care and social determinants of health.

Over the past year, PolicyLab has also weighed in on numerous pivotal issues impacting families beyond the pandemic, including child care subsidy regulations, postpartum Medicaid coverage, and the health of families in rural communities, to name a few.

Informing Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Health Equity Response

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Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Request for Public Comment: Subsidized Child Care Eligibility Requirements

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CMS Request for Information: Maternal and Infant Health Care in Rural Communities

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Paid Leave: Will COVID-19 be a Catalyst for This Essential Policy?

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Providing Essential Guidance

Throughout the pandemic, PolicyLab has provided extensive guidance and support to local officials and school leaders, tracking and reviewing emerging evidence on COVID-19 in children, and providing resources and insights to school districts throughout the country as they made critical decisions regarding in-school operations.

PolicyLab also collaborated with local health departments, education leadership, and school personnel to launch Project: ACE-IT, an intervention that offers COVID-19 testing for districts in southeastern Pennsylvania to help school staff and students feel safe when returning to the classroom.

We’ve convened education and public health experts for robust virtual conversations, drawing thousands of participants seeking information on reopening K-12 schools, returning to youth sports and how schools can play a role in supporting youth behavioral health during the pandemic.

Policy Review: Evidence and Guidance for In-person Schooling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Assisting Childhood Education Through Increased Testing: Project: ACE-IT

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From Testing to Vaccines to Equity: Navigating the Remainder of the COVID-19 School Year

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COVID-19: A Catalyst for Integrating Youth Behavioral Health Care Across Settings

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When the Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, Dr. William Hite, released plans for reopening over the summer amid low levels of COVID-19 cases, he cited PolicyLab’s guidance as a resource that informed the district’s approach:

Hite said that the plan was informed by health guidance from the PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and federal agencies.

Headshot of Dr. William Hite, Jr.

William Hite, Jr., EdD

as quoted on NBC Philadelphia