Getting Out Ahead of COVID-19: Mapping Neighborhood Vulnerability and At-Risk Populations

by The Rev. Ken Howard
at-risk populations

This blog post is part of a series on strategies and tools for helping congregations survive and thrive in the face of the COVID crisis.

Click here for the previous post

From what I am hearing from most of my sisters and brothers of the cloth, it would not be overstating the case to say that the Coronavirus pandemic has turned their lives as faith leaders upside down, along with just about every idea they have about how faith communities are “supposed” to operate. It has begun to seem like every task has become incredibly urgent and they are running as fast as they can just to keep up with the havoc the COVID crisis is wreaking with their congregations and the (sometimes) at-risk populations they serve.

So how do we move past this “tyranny of the urgent” and get out ahead of COVID-19 with a little short-term organization and a little longer-term planning?

One way to do this is through data mapping and analytics. Data-mapping is a way to visualize all the data bombarding us – and our congregations and neighborhoods – in context. Analytics are a specialized form of data-mapping that help us analyze, evaluate, and make decisions based on the data before us.

The CDC has developed an analytic that is invaluable for getting a handle on how to prioritize our efforts both with our congregations and our neighborhoods. It is called the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). As shown above, it is a complex algorithm that samples selected neighborhood demographic data in four themes (Socioeconomic Status, Household Composition and Disability, Minority Status and Language, and Housing and Transportation) that can help identify at-risk populations. It combines the sampled data to produce an overall rating (on a scale of 0.0-1.0) of a neighborhood’s vulnerability to a pandemic and the impact the pandemic will have it, as illustrated below (for a more in-depth description of the SVI, click here).

These are the Social Vulnerability Index ratings for the neighborhoods around my home (orange dot in the lower left) in Germantown, Maryland. As you can see, my immediate neighborhood has a relatively low Social Vulnerability score (0.05), while my friends a mile away live in neighborhoods with significantly more at-risk populations.

Now imagine that this was the community you serve and that the little orange dots represent the households that attend your congregation. You begin to understand the benefits this approach provides in terms of organizing your congregational ministry efforts in the short term by prioritizing which of your parishioners are more at-risk and therefore need more more of your attention.

And now take a somewhat longer view. Imagine that you could know what specific issues are driving the increased vulnerability among at-risk populations around your congregation (in the case of my friends’ neighborhood, Minority/Language issues followed by Household Composition/Disabilities issues). If this were a neighborhood near your house of worship, you have a good starting point for understanding why the people in it were harder hit than most and how to help them and their neighborhood recover from the impact of the pandemic, once the worst of it was behind them.

None of this takes anything away from your prayerful and intuitive discernment. But what it does do is to help you ground your discernment in data.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series. Future posts may include other relevant material for at-risk populations, such as:

  • Things your congregants can do to create a sense of community with their own neighbors and neighborhoods.
  • Tools and strategies for hosting online fellowship. 
  • Tools and strategies for facilitating online bible study and formation. 
  • Tools and strategies congregations can use to locate and reach populations most vulnerable to COVID19. 
  • Tools and strategies by which judicatories can resource their congregations.
  • Tools and strategies to prepare for the aftermath and recovery for COVID-19.

Want to help your congregation more effectively engage the neighborhoods it serves?

Click here to schedule a
no cost preliminary missional intelligence discussion
and receive a sample Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report
for your location

Those who engage a full Neighborhood Missional Assessment or other consultative program from FaithX will receive a complete NMIR in interactive (dynamic HTML) format.

Important Note: A Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report can also be a useful tool for identifying the prevalence of at risk groups within your membership and ministry areasand a Neighborhood Missional Assessment can help you identify the neighborhoods where they are most prevalent.

We have reduced the cost of NMIRs and NMAs by 10% for the duration of the COVID19 pandemic.

Want to help your judicatory identify emerging missional opportunities and challenges within its boundaries?

Click here to schedule a demo/discussion
of MapDash for Faith Communities
for Strategic Missional Planning

Important Note: In the days ahead Datastory will be adding COVID-related data to MapDash to all current and future subscribers (including incidence of COVID-19, hospital locations and capacity, Twitter feeds, location of doctors).

FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is carried out under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.