For the First Time, Argonne Researchers Reveal How COVID-19 Has Transformed Communities

The public now has access to a series of data and analysis resources designed to support and inform long-term COVID-19 recovery efforts across the United States. On May 12, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory released interactive indices, analyses, and maps that provide a detailed understanding of the socio-economic effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Argonne developed these resources to help federal agencies understand where impacts are most acute (down to the county level), and which demographic groups and facets of the economy — employment, housing stability, public sector services — may require recovery support. This data and analysis is helping to guide federal recovery efforts, from informing federal engagement efforts with affected communities to helping target delivery of aid.

With the COVID-19 pandemic touching off widespread health impacts and economic hardship across the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under its responsibilities implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework, recognized the need for recovery-focused data and analysis to enhance the capability of federal agencies to reach out and deliver critical services. The Recovery Support Function Leadership Group established the Data and Assessment Working Group (DAWG) to manage recovery data and assessment needs across multiple federal agencies. They designated FEMA and the Economic Development Administration to coordinate DAWG efforts and enlisted Argonne to provide analytic support.

Researchers and experts at Argonne immediately went to work, seeking advice and data from federal agencies that would likely be using these data and analyses—the Department of Commerce, Department of the Treasury, the Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs, and more than 20 others.

Argonne built a web-based portal, gathered more than 100 data sources, and developed an initial set of analyses in less than a month. ​It was an all-hands-on-deck scenario,” says portal project leader Carmella Burdi, a senior geographic information systems analyst with Argonne’s Decision and Infrastructure Sciences (DIS) division. ​We tapped economists, infrastructure analysts, all the smartest people we could find to do comparisons between pre- and post-pandemic data sets. That allows us to put a finer point on things than other agencies.”

Through input from interagency coordination, Argonne has expanded the scope of data collection and analysis based on agency needs. For example, the Minority Business Development Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts, for instance, separately requested in-depth reports on the pandemic’s effects on minority-owned businesses and the arts and culture sector, respectively. More recently, FEMA and Argonne identified the need to share these resources more broadly to support ongoing state, local, tribal, and territorial recovery efforts.

What is so daunting about the COVID-19 pandemic is the overwhelming scale. That’s exactly why an analysis effort like this is so important,” says Iain Hyde, deputy director of the DIS division’s National Preparedness Analytics Center, who leads the Argonne team.

Trying to get our heads around what’s happening in the entire United States, including all 50 states and all the territories in the Atlantic and Pacific, in all the counties and all the communities is challenging,” he says. ​That’s the major purpose for this effort — trying to make sense of that. The data sources we’ve been gathering and the products we’ve developed are providing clarity to that story, not just as a snapshot in time but in terms of how the pandemic is changing over time.”

One interactive map lets you zoom in on any of the more than 3,000 U.S. counties to instantly generate a shareable report on how, month by month since January 2020, the pandemic has impacted gross domestic product in that particular area. Another map displays the pandemic’s impact on state and local government revenues — important because those bodies often are required to match funds in order to receive federal aid.

Want to know where households are at greater risk of foreclosure or eviction as a result of COVID-19? Click on a Housing Stability Index that reveals the most impacted county in the country: Bronx, New York, where 9% more households are housing insecure than before the pandemic. The County High-Level Economic Recovery and Resilience Index Scorecard calculates which counties within a state are the most (and least) financially vulnerable based on indicators such as government revenue impacts and social vulnerability. The Internet Access Index highlights household accessibility to broadband, providing insight into areas where distance learning or telehealth services may be challenging.

Those of us who get into emergency management do so because we want to help save lives and help our communities flourish after something terrible happens,” Burdi says. ​Getting our work out there to the most people possible is extremely important.”

The data we’re collecting,” Hyde adds, ​is trying to give people perspective on the starting point for the recovery, and give them the information they need to develop a road map moving forward as to how we rebuild the economy, create jobs, help people stay in their housing — and make our communities less susceptible to the next pandemic.”

Read more at Argonne National Laboratory

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