- Reduced COVID-19 case counts by 60 percent, averting hospitalizations and deaths
- Administered 276 percent more COVID-19 tests than comparison communities
- Estimated to have saved $112.7 million in retained wages, avoided health care costs, and value created by years of life preserved, resulting in a 330 percent return on investment
Healthy Davis Together, a comprehensive pandemic response program in Davis, California, prevented illness and saved lives by providing regular COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and other safety precautions, according to an independent evaluation by Mathematica, a company focused on using data and analytics to improve public health and well-being.
The analysis provides evidence of the program’s effectiveness in improving the health and economy of the Davis community and underscores the value of a precision public health strategy that combines targeted epidemiological infectious disease control approaches and behavior change interventions, such as widespread communication and education, to mitigate future pandemic and outbreak threats, including those caused by variants of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
In September 2020, the city of Davis and the University of California, Davis, launched Healthy Davis Together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, facilitate a return to normal activities, and provide insight into what communities like Davis can do to protect residents from future infectious disease outbreaks. The program included a broad set of interventions targeted at an estimated 75,000 people in Davis, such as free saliva-based COVID-19 testing, modest incentives to increase routine testing (to capture asymptomatic infections), mobile testing and vaccination sites (to improve accessibility), and investments in local businesses and workers.
Disease mitigation impacts
According to Mathematica researchers, in the first 16 months (October 2020 to January 2022), the program’s efforts helped to:
- Reduce COVID-19 case counts by 60 percent
- Prevent 4,144 cases of COVID-19
- Avoid 275 COVID-19-related hospitalizations
- Avert 35 COVID-19-related deaths
Mathematica’s evaluation also shed light on how the program prevented serious illness. For example, to quickly identify and contain new infections, the program made free, saliva-based testing for asymptomatic people easily accessible and used modest incentives and communications tools to educate the community and drive demand for testing.
- Davis administered 276 percent more COVID-19 tests than matched comparison communities, according to Mathematica’s estimates.
- The share of residents who tested at least once was up to 55 percentage points higher in Davis than in surrounding communities.
“Healthy Davis Together undoubtedly had an impact on the public health of the Davis community during the pandemic,” said Brad Pollock, director of Healthy Davis Together and chair of public health sciences at UC Davis. “Our peer-reviewed evidence suggests that the program had a significant impact on reducing transmission. Mathematica’s independent analysis corroborates what we’ve experienced over the 21-month partnership—that the program was successful at slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
“We are proud of what the Healthy Davis Together partnership was able to accomplish,” said Gloria Partida, council member and former mayor of Davis, California. “Since we launched testing in November 2020, we have learned so much and worked to share our knowledge quickly. This evaluation is further evidence of what we were able to accomplish as a community and hope it encourages others to adopt practices that can help safeguard their cities.”
COVID-19 vaccination efforts
To further prevent infections and severe illness, the program also prioritized improving underserved communities’ access to vaccinations and reducing vaccine misinformation through education. Mathematica researchers found that, by July 2021, a few months after vaccines were widely available, significantly more Davis residents were fully vaccinated than people in surrounding communities.
Small business and local economy
Healthy Davis Together also sought to buttress the local economy as lockdowns and other public health measures dampened in-person commerce. Through the HDT Business Partners Program, managed by the city of Davis in collaboration with the Davis Downtown Business Association and the Davis Chamber of Commerce, businesses and their workers received a range of supports, such as free, personal protective equipment, reimbursement grants for COVID-19 safety equipment, and other eligible items. Mathematica researchers found that the program improved labor force participation in Davis toward the latter half of the study period, with pronounced effects after the end of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Program cost effectiveness
Mathematica also found that Healthy Davis Together was highly cost-effective. Although the program spent $34.1 million on activities in Davis through January 2022 (with more than three-quarters of spending driven by clinical testing costs), the Davis community accrued an estimated $112.7 million in savings through wages retained from averted cases, health care costs avoided from averted hospitalizations, and the value created by the years of life preserved from averted deaths.
Healthy Davis Together was a test case for what could be accomplished when a research university partners with a city to expand its pandemic response program and deploy the full suite of recommended public health strategies to combat a pandemic. The comprehensiveness of its approach made it unusual, if not unique, which posed a challenge in measuring the program’s impacts.
Evaluators from Mathematica used an advanced statistical technique to estimate what would have happened in Davis without a comprehensive pandemic response strategy. Drawing on data from a wide range of sources, including the program’s Resident Survey and testing logs, the California Department of Public Health, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the California Secretary of State, and the U.S. Census Bureau, they compared changes over time in outcomes in Davis with corresponding changes in a matched set of comparison communities that resembled Davis on demographics, community features, and pre-program outcomes.
“Using objective, data-driven methods, we wanted to answer a simple question: Did the program work?” said Aparna Keshaviah, a principal researcher at Mathematica. “After isolating the effects of Healthy Davis Together from confounding effects linked to socioeconomic and demographic factors, community features, and the changing nature of the pandemic, we have an answer: Healthy Davis Together successfully increased COVID-19 testing in Davis and led to modest but meaningful improvements in the health and economy of the Davis community by flattening the disease curve during surges and helping the labor market bounce back more quickly once federal support ended.”
About Healthy Davis Together
Healthy Davis Together is an award-winning pandemic response partnership between the city of Davis, California, and University of California, Davis. The project reduced the spread of COVID-19 and helped facilitate a safe return to city and campus life and continues to provide valuable data about the coronavirus in Davis and surrounding communities through its wastewater monitoring program. For more information, visit HealthyDavisTogether.org.
Mathematica is a research and data analytics consultancy driven by a mission to improve well-being for people and communities. We innovate at the intersection of data science, social science, and technology to translate big questions into deep insights. Collaborating closely with decision makers and changemakers, we’re reimaging the way the world collects, analyzes, and applies data to solve urgent challenges.
J.B. Wogan, Mathematica
Rosanna Vierra, GMMB for Healthy Davis Together