Health Department Launches Survey to Measure Pandemic’s Impact on Community

The V.I. Health Department COVID-19 community survey has several questions concerning communication to help the department better tailor its messaging. (Screenshot from Health Department survey)

The V.I. Health Department has launched a community survey in hopes of learning how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the everyday lives of Virgin Islanders and how it can better shape public health programs in response.

The 24-question online survey takes just five to 10 minutes to complete and is available to all residents 18 and older by scanning the QR code on the department’s Facebook page and website, or via this link. Health Department teams also will visit retail locations in the coming week to offer the survey to those without internet access, or who would rather discuss it in person.

“We wanted to reduce any barriers to anybody participating,” said Health Department Epidemiologist Lisa LaPlace Ekpo, a native of St. Thomas who has been in the field for nine years and has served with the DOH for four years. Launched on Thursday, the survey will run through May 1, she said.

“Our main goal is to better serve the community,” said Ekpo. “It really will help us to improve our current health response. It’s prudent to keep planning for our future.”

A similar survey was conducted following the twin Category 5 hurricanes of September 2017, said Ekpo.

To complete the COVID-19 community survey, residents can simply scan the QR code or visit the link to complete the survey on their phones, laptops, tablets or computers. Answers are anonymous, and respondents can skip any questions they’d rather not answer. Most are multiple-choice, with the option to offer additional comments if desired.

The survey seeks demographic information such as a person’s age and the island they live on, as well as how they receive public health news, whether online, at church, through newspapers, radio, television, or social media.

“We ask a lot of questions about communication,” to know whether the current methods are working to reach the community, and to make changes where needed, said Ekpo.

One multiple-choice question on the V.I. Health Department COVID-19 community survey asks about the pandemic’s impact on different facets of mental health. (Screenshot from Health Department survey)

The survey also delves into questions about how employment and income have changed during the pandemic, if at all, before moving on to the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s mental, physical and behavioral health.

For example, one multiple-choice question asks whether people have had trouble concentrating, sleeping/nightmare issues, a loss of appetite, agitated behavior, increased alcohol or drug consumption, or witnessed an increase in violent or threatening behavior during the pandemic. Another asks about symptoms such as anxiety, general malaise, or feelings of depression.

Answers to these questions and more will help the Health Department understand how the greatest global health crisis since the flu pandemic of 1918 has impacted Virgin Islanders, and what can be done to help.

“We all have our own lived experience” of the pandemic and yet “we all lived very similar experiences,” said Ekpo, whether as a parent or guardian working at home with children in virtual school, or someone worried about their finances after COVID-19 upended the economy.

“We recognize that there are multiple layers of impacts of the pandemic,” said Ekpo, and the survey results will help the department identify any gaps in its programs and services, as well as make the case for areas that need additional funding.

“We are really looking forward to the responses,” said Ekpo, who said she became an epidemiologist out of a desire to give back to the community.

“I’m a servant at heart, and I feel really drawn to assisting and helping the community on a broader level,” said Ekpo. “I feel really privileged and honored to be in a role to serve the community. That has always been my goal – to help.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story referred to the COVID-19 survey as a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPAR, survey. While the questions in this community survey were modeled after previous CASPER surveys, the current community survey is not a CASPER as it is not utilizing the sample cluster methodology (that helps to randomly select estates or clusters for house-to-house surveys) and the questions are individual-level and not household-based.