By Lee Egerstrom
The Minnesota Department of Health has launched a deeper look at how COVID-19 is impacting different communities in Minnesota to give health professionals, state and local officials, and citizens themselves better understanding of how the pandemic is affecting them.
Equally important, it will give all involved guidance on what policies may be needed going forward to combat the coronavirus.
Beginning this week and continuing through September, MDH has teams out in different communities conducting what is called a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) survey.
While the survey is primarily designed to gather important information, the survey teams will also offer free COVID-19 tests for you and household members. The tests will confirm whether you now have or have had the virus.
Public health staff will be working neighborhoods in the Twin Cities metro area during Sept. 14-23 and again from Sept. 27-30.
In other regions of the state, initial department plans called for starting the CASPER survey in the Rochester area during Sept, 14-16, the Marshall and Mankato areas during Sept. 17-19, the Duluth area Sept. 21-13, Fergus Falls and St. Cloud areas Sept. 24-26, and the Bemidji area during Sept. 28-30. (See map for counties in survey areas.)
In announcing the public health survey, MDH said CASPER helps public health workers and emergency managers understand community health needs. The information will help them make informed decisions, initiate public health action and identify information gaps, allocate resources, support disaster planning, response, and recovery activities; and assess new or changing needs.
Through this survey, MDH hopes to understand how COVID-19 has spread in Minnesota communities. It will explore how COVID-19 transmission and infection rates differ among regions, identify what percent of the population is infected with COVID-19 but do not have symptoms, improve health messaging and prevent the spread of the disease.
Meredith Ahlgren, deputy of the COVID-19 cultural, faith and disability communities outreach and engagement branch and activing supervisor for MDH’s Community Initiatives Unit, said in materials explaining CASPER that private information gathered will be kept private.
Health workers will come to randomly selected households in various neighborhoods to talk to survey participants in person. They will wear colored vests and will wear appropriate protective gear. And, for your security, the survey information stresses that the health workers will not ask you to show a Social Security or credit card number.
Further, participants can opt out of the survey at any point they start feeling uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, the department notes that if you haven’t been selected for the CASPER survey but believe you need access to COVID-19 testing, look for community testing events or talk to a health care provider about securing a test.
In addition to a questionnaire about the virus in your household and neighborhood, the survey will offer two actual COVID-19 tests. One is the nasal swab test to determine if you are currently infected. The other is a finger prick small blood sample, or antibody test, to look for a past infection.
For more information about the CASPER survey, visit https://www/health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/casper.html.
For daily updated COVID-19 information in Minnesota, visit https://mn.gov/covid19/, and https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation.html.