June 17, 2020

Three research teams that include faculty from the School of Social Work were awarded COVID-19 economic recovery grants from the UW Population Health Initiative. Each project focuses on a diverse and vulnerable population, whether older adults, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, or struggling small businesses in Okanogan County.   

Maya Magarati, a research scientist with the School’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, is a co-investigator on a project to help small businesses in Okanogan County. This rural county has struggled to meet the state’s COVID-19 targets to enter Phase 2 of the statewide reopening, as residents continue to test positive for the virus and there is resistance to wearing face masks and to social distancing. 

The team will examine factors that might increase the use of masks in small businesses to keep both employees and customers safe. Along with developing targeted messages, the project team will identify four high-traffic small businesses to participate in the study, work with a local distributor to print masks with the participating businesses’ logos, and distribute them free to their customers. 

Assistant Professor Clara Berridge, joined by Ian Johnson, a doctoral candidate at the School of Social Work, is exploring the economic challenges and practices that are emerging to provide social and healthcare services to diverse older adults. Many vulnerable adults in Washington have had critical services disrupted by the coronavirus, such as health and dementia care, in-home support, socialization and access to benefits. While many sectors of the population have successfully moved to online services, this option is often not available to older adults and their caregivers. 

The project addresses the urgent need to document barriers to services and to understand the fiscal and operational impact that the pandemic is having on organizations that serve older adults. The research team will deliver a report that documents best practices to mitigate disparities in accessing essential social and healthcare services across the state.

In the third project, two School researchers—Michael S. Spencer, presidential term professor, and David Takeuchi, associate dean for faculty excellence—join a cross-disciplinary team to explore patterns of economic vulnerability for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. NHPI communities have one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in King County as well as high levels of poverty and economic stress that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

By using national and King County statistics, the team will construct a community and data-driven model that shows the economic vulnerability of NHPI communities and identify pathways for economic recovery. School doctoral candidate Santino Camacho is also part of the research team.

A total of 18 faculty-led teams representing 13 different schools and colleges at the UW received $333,000 in grants to help researchers understand, mitigate or reverse the economic impacts of COVID-19, particularly for vulnerable populations that have been the hardest hit. With matching funds, the total value of the awards amounted to $495,000. Project results are due within five months.