COVID-19 Community Response: Emerging Themes Across Sentinel Communities

What can we learn at the intersection of resilience, well-being, and equity?

The coronavirus pandemic has elevated and exacerbated deep-seated inequities in communities across the United States. Localities large and small, urban and rural, well resourced and under resourced, are responding to distinct challenges.

Lessons Learned Observing Nine Communities

The Sentinel Communities project follows the experiences of 29 diverse communities and their efforts to promote health and well-being. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have studied the following communities—Finney County, Kansas; Harris County, Texas; Milwaukee; Mobile, Ala.; San Juan County, N.M.; Sanilac County, Mich.; Tacoma, Wash.; Tampa, Fla.; and White Plains, N.Y.—in depth to understand impacts on community members and local mitigation efforts.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through Sentinel Communities research, seeks to understand how different communities have fared through this crisis and why. Researchers at the RAND Corporation examined evolving social conditions, including access to work, school, housing, social supports, and other critical aspects of health and well-being.

Previous reports summarized the pandemic’s early impacts (released July 2020); how cross-sector collaboration contributed to recovery efforts (released October 2020); and the economic, social, and educational impacts of COVID-19 on children and families (released March 2021).

As vaccine rates increase and communities look toward response, a final set of research reports examines health, economic response, in-person schooling, and affordable housing. The synthesis report (released July 2021) offers lessons learned from communities navigating these novel challenges. 

  • Having an operational equity plan appeared to support better and more targeted responses to address COVID-19 health disparities because that planning can help the whole community allocate COVID-related resources where needed. 

  • Counties and cities that engaged with and involved community members in decision making before the pandemic built trust among residents, which was helpful during the pandemic

  • Establishing collaborations that allow different areas and levels of government and nonprofits and businesses  to work together is useful because the necessary working relationships and practices are already in place. For example, different sectors or levels of government can more easily share data or allow financing to flow where it’s most needed.

Featured Sentinel Communities Research

Volunteers wearing masks sort produce.

The COVID-19 Response and Links to Community Efforts

Nine diverse communities are responding to the coronavirus crisis. Follow their journeys to see how they fared from the start of the pandemic through:

July 2020: Spotlight report

October 2020: Collaboration in Communities report

March 2021: Impacts on Children and Families report

July 2021: COVID-19 One Year Later report