For States Across the Country, Data Powers COVID-19 Response Efforts
By Josh Inaba and Michael Bonino-Britsch
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, state governors have increasingly turned to data to guide decision-making. A newly released report, the 2020 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence, highlights important lessons for how states have responded to COVID-19. All 50 states have launched COVID-19-related dashboards to monitor public health data and emergency response services, which constitutes a significant step forward in the use of data-driven policymaking in state government. States have also developed or converted their comprehensive data infrastructures to enhance their ability to respond to the pandemic. By following the example of the leading states, more state governments can effectively leverage the power of data and evidence to recover from the pandemic, especially to help communities of color that have been disproportionately affected.
Placing Data Front and Center
As of July 2020, 18 governors had publicly committed to taking data-driven and evidence-based approaches in their COVID-19 response strategies. Through daily press briefings, governors reaffirmed their state’s commitment to a response grounded in data and science. Beyond making public health data easily accessible, several states took a comprehensive approach by outfitting data dashboards with highly detailed information on economic, health, and equity indicators. Colorado’s COVID-19 dashboard features extensive hospital and outbreak information as well as an incidence and epidemic curve. Minnesota’s COVID Response Capacity Tracker, in addition to monitoring hospital surge capacity, child care capacity, and COVID-19 response funding data, tracks data on economic and food security metrics, critical care supplies, dial back indicators and demographics. In both states, these data-informed actions by governors drove important decisions every day.
Prioritizing Equity in the Response
Recognizing that systemic health and social inequities have been exacerbated for communities of color by the ongoing pandemic, states have taken concerted action to track the disparate impacts of the virus on residents. Minnesota produced a race/ethnicity data dashboard and 45 other states released demographic data in some form. Virginia’s COVID-19’s Health Equity Work Group leveraged data to provide testing and personal protective equipment in communities typically underserved by government programs. Overall, states were able to use data to better and more equitably tailor their response activities.
Capitalizing on Existing Data Capacity and Infrastructure
States with the pre-existing ability to link, share and integrate data were well-positioned to take rapid, resident-focused action in response to the pandemic. For example, InnovateOhio’s statewide data-sharing and integration platform gave the state a head start on providing rapid, actionable COVID-19-related data to the governor, other state decision-makers and local jurisdictions, on a daily basis.
When it came to distributing pandemic resources from the federal government, states like Connecticut and Rhode Island leveraged their data capacity and infrastructure to support their residents. Connecticut, realizing that tens of thousands of students would lose access to meals when schools closed, harnessed existing data-sharing agreements to match student and SNAP data to enable school children to directly receive SNAP Pandemic EBT food benefits with no application necessary. In Rhode Island, to administer the federal COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the state launched an improved cloud-based data sharing system that enabled Rhode Island to be among the first states in the nation to provide benefits in the face of record-high employment claims. The Missouri’s Department of Economic Development created a PPE Marketplace to connect public and private buyers and vendors of personal protective equipment (PPE). Data generated from the marketplace data was leveraged to calculate the state’s overall PPE burn rate, which has allowed the state to invest over $100 million in a PPE reserve for managing COVID-19 during the winter cold and flu season and preventing supply shortages. Without such infrastructure, states may continue to struggle to effectively harness the power of data.
Implementing Evidence-based Budgeting
COVID-19 is causing unprecedented disruptions to state government budgets. For many states, implementing across-the-board budget cuts is the default response, but states can turn to smarter strategies to inform their budget decisions: identifying effective programs that achieve results and maintain funding for them to ensure that already underserved residents, particularly communities of color, are not left farther behind. In Tennessee, for example, the Office of Evidence and Impact encouraged agencies to invest in programs that are supported by research and evidence, and if not, to consider conducting evaluations. Other states like Colorado and Minnesota have signaled that funding evidence-based interventions are a priority. As states face unprecedented fiscal decisions in the coming months, the budgeting process can help states identify effective, evidence-based interventions.
Taken together, state governments’ use of data and evidence have delivered important results as part of their COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Moving forward, there is more to be done to incorporate evidence-based tools into state budgeting, programming, and policymaking. By focusing on data and evidence, states can respond more equitably and effectively to the needs of their residents during, and after crises like COVID-19.
 In July 2020, Results for America conducted a scan of all states to assess their COVID-19 response efforts, see 2020 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence (Appendix B) for details of this analysis.
Josh Inaba is the manager of state and federal policy at Results for America, which helps decision-makers at all levels of government harness evidence and data to make progress on our greatest challenges, and Michael Bonino-Britsch is a policy analyst in the economic opportunity program of the Center for Best Practices at the National Governors Association, the bipartisan association of the nation’s governors.