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Public Sector

Three lessons learned from a year of COVID-19 response

March 25, 2021
Alexander Titus, PhD

Strategic Business Executive, Global Public Sector, Google Cloud

The past year has been a challenging one. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way the world operates, and has created new information and logistical challenges for both communities and public health officials.  Over the past year, we have been working closely with city, state, and federal officials to aid in the pandemic response, and we’ve learned a few things along the way. First and foremost, the world is full of amazing people who are working day and night to end the pandemic as soon as possible. Beyond the humbling experience of working alongside our public leaders, we’ve learned three things about how technology can aid in such a response. 

Officials are excited to make data-driven policy decisions
Every time a public leader makes a decision, it's with the best information available to them at the time. In a fast moving public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, information is changing constantly, so our ability to keep up with the latest information is crucial to a successful response. Over the past year, we have tackled challenges ranging from forecasting COVID-19 case progression to understanding how policy decisions will impact the public health response. In all of our interactions, we’ve seen that our public leaders are excited and hungry for the ability to make data-driven policy decisions. 

Communities are looking for high-quality information
We at Google are not strangers to the power of information. Over the past year, we’ve supported the power of information, from providing information about vaccination locations to keeping up to date on the latest public health guidance. We have seen how community sentiment about public health responses can improve with access to accurate and trustworthy information, and how leveraging the power of technology to more effectively communicate can improve public health response overall. 

Last inch delivery can be enhanced with technology
As we work with communities around the country, we often hear about the need to manage the logistics of helping people get their vaccines. While public health has seen fulfilling “last-mile” delivery when vaccine doses get to clinics and hospitals, the “last-inch” delivery of actually getting vaccines into arms is a more recent, major challenge for public health officials. These challenges, however, can be overcome with the help of technology. In the midst of a crisis, new technology must assist and enhance the systems and processes already in place rather than require their replacement. Public health must now take on the dual responsibilities of persuading a potentially hesitant public while increasing confidence in its ability to execute.

This process starts with helping community members find out if they're eligible for the current phase of vaccines. Timely information about who qualifies under the current phase helps members of the community keep up with constantly evolving public health requirements. And once someone finds out they are eligible, they welcome help to find the right clinic, schedule their appointments, and keep track of the type of vaccine and which dose they’ve received. The logistics of managing and scheduling vaccination appointments is challenging for public health officials and community members alike, so we have worked alongside our communities to make sure our technology is helping to refine this process. 

When people find out they are not yet eligible under the current phase, they are often interested in pre-registering so they can get a vaccine as soon as the opportunity arises. This ability to maintain a standing wait-list of interested individuals can help officials quickly administer doses when supply becomes available, either by new shipments, canceled appointments, or a variety of other reasons. As more doses become available in the coming weeks, capabilities like this will be crucial to a successful vaccine roll-out. 

Where we go next
While there is still a long way to go before the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we are excited about the power of technology to aid in the response. We have pioneered technologies that scale with the needs of our communities, and provide the leading tools for engineers, data analysts, public health officials, and senior government leaders alike. Over the past year, we have seen public leaders work countless hours and pour over mountains of data to make the best informed decisions they can. We are committed to working alongside our public leaders in the response, and we will continue to develop technology that empowers communities and enhances officials’ ability to make high-quality, data-driven decisions.

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