How Extension Can Contribute to COVID-19 Efforts
In Oklahoma, public health and medical systems emergency preparedness and response activities are led by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). The OSDH Emergency Preparedness and Response Services division is responsible for assuring that the state of Oklahoma can respond to a variety of public health threats and disasters. The public health emergency response mission cannot be carried out without vital collaboration with community partners. Extension is one such agency to collaborate and assist in times of crisis.
The structure of Extension and OSDH are similar in that every county has both a local Extension and OSDH representation. County Extension staff can assist OSDH county staff in several ways. At the county level, Extension staff can contribute to the Incident Command structure, supporting in various roles such as planning, logistics and operations of incident goals and objectives.
As leaders in the community, Extension must communicate and reiterate the messaging released by OSDH and the Centers for Disease Control. As of now, those messages include the importance of handwashing, social distancing and information for high-risk individuals. This messaging may change suddenly and often, so checking the source for updated recommendations is vital in ensuring that messages are timely and correct. All persons involved should strive to ensure that messages are from credible sources to reduce the risk of giving false information.
The relationships that Extension educators have with members in their community are critical for a collaborative response. Extension is a prime organization to provide checks on their elderly clientele. A phone call poses no communicable risk of COVID-19, and also add a small socialization component to those in quarantine. Inquiring about the welfare of these clients can also help identify any resources that high-risk individuals in the area may need. This can then be an opportunity to work with Incident Command to acquire and disseminate needed essentials and limit these individuals' exposure.
The need for socialization will soon become apparent as schools and business continue their social distancing efforts. Educators may begin to look at ways to conduct virtual meetings and classes. For those without access to virtual courses, providing “take-home” lessons or activities would also give students and clients the ability to continue their Extension activities.
While the burden of pandemic efforts falls on the health department, Extension is comprised of a knowledgeable and adaptable workforce that OSDH can rely on in times of crisis and disaster.