Doctor 2

The UI PRC-RH has been providing technical assistance across Iowa to support the COVID-19 response.

Team members:

  • UIowa: Rima Afifi, Natoshia Askelson, Becky Bucklin, Heidi Haines, Aaron Scherer, Nicole Novak, Patricia O'Neill, Mark Vander Weg, Ge Zhu, Stephanie Evett, Melissa Gant
  • PRC-RH Students: Cathleen Zbylut
  • PartnersIowa Immunizes, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, and over 100 community-based organizations, local public health departments, and faith-based organizations

Project dates: 2020-current

Funding sources: UI PRC-RH, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services

Project tags: Community engagement, COVID-19, Cultural humility, Health equity, Social determinants of health



The UI PRC-RH has been providing technical assistance across Iowa to support the COVID-19 response. Our work has been in the following areas:

Up-to-date and accessible information

  • Through our survey and interviews (described below), community partners requested reliable and timely information on the pandemic. We have sent grant opportunities, COVID-19 resources, and developed materials in response to information and support partners identified. This information is shared with community leaders through an email listserv as resources are created or found by our research team.
  • In guided discussions, community leaders identified the need for a hub of translated information on COVID-19. Our research team created a site with COVID-19 information in languages that community partners identified as in high need within their communities. Anne Abbot, in partnership with the UI PRC-RH, developed materials and resources for outdoor social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Implementation Guide features ideas for getting signage posted and where to place it for the best results.  The UI PRC-RH has printed ‘Trail Etiquette” yard signs for communities without funds for printing.

Vaccine hesitancy, barriers, confidence, and access

  • We supported Iowa Health and Human Services (IHHS) by conducting literature reviews, identifying communities that may experience hesitancy, and connecting IHHS and leaders of these communities. Additionally, we created a review panel of community members and leaders to provide rapid feedback on communication materials.
  • We worked to improve vaccine confidence of Iowa's parents. Focus groups and the review panel informed the development of theory-driven vaccine messages for rural parents and refugee, immigrant, and migrant parents. Messages target parents through paid media. We also developed trainings for trusted messengers to promote vaccinations in Iowa communities. Currently, we have developed trainings for OB/GYN and family medicine providers, pediatric physicians, nurses, and licensed childcare providers. These trainings offer CEU credits for attendees and cover topics grounded in motivational interviewing, the use of storytelling, and skills for countering vaccine misinformation (funded by IHHS).
  • Since spring of 2020, our team has conducted routine analysis of the Iowa Immunization Registry System for COVID-19 Vaccination. Findings from this analysis have helped guide both our team and state initiatives related to COVID-19 vaccination. 
  • Our team was part of the Vaccine Confidence Network. To read about this work, visit the Promoting COVID-19 Vaccinations to Strengthen Iowa Communities page.

Community experiences, resiliency, and vulnerability

  • Resiliency and Vulnerability to COVID-19 in Rural Communities: Health and Socioeconomic Well-Being in the Context of Ethnic Diversity: In consultation with a statewide advisory panel, we designed a survey to understand the socioeconomic, health, and emotional impacts of COVID-19 in 73 rural communities throughout Iowa. Data was collected from randomly selected adult residents of the 73 communities (5,229 people). Dr. Nicole Novak led the community engagement portion of this project, working with two community-based organizations to collect additional data from Latina/o and immigrant residents in 5 of the communities that have large meat packing employers. Results were reported in the summer of 2021 and the work was covered in the Gazette.
  • COVID-19 Micropolitan Community Leader Survey: In the Spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading across Iowa, we wanted to find a way to assist and support the micropolitan communities we serve in their disaster response. To discover how to best provide assistance, our team developed a community needs survey that we piloted with our partners in Ottumwa (37 people) and then distributed to our list of micropolitan community leaders across the state. In this survey, we asked about what needs they were seeing in their community as a result of the pandemic, challenges they foresaw their organization facing in the coming months, and populations not currently being served by programming in the community. In response to survey results (176 people), we identified that healthy coping strategies and mental health were imminent concerns for community leaders. In response, we developed social media messages and a webpage to support healthy coping strategies and sent a toolkit for these messages to the list of invited micropolitan leaders for the original survey.  
  • COVID-19 Ottumwa Leader Survey: We conducted interviews with 64 respondents to the COVID-19 Micropolitan Community Stakeholder Survey who were willing to talk more in-depth about vulnerable populations and the COVID-19 pandemic in their community. In these interviews, we explored more in depth the existing social and human services in micropolitan communities, efforts that were addressing the health needs of community members, and racial and ethnic disparities in accessing health and social services in the community. Responses from these interviews helped guide much of our developed COVID-19 materials and resources.

Resources, Media, & Publications


  • Ottumwa COVID-19 Needs Infographic: A one-page report for Ottumwa, IA community leaders summarizing results from the pilot survey on Ottumwa Community Needs during COVID-19
  • Healthy Coping Website: This page reviews the importance of self care and using healthy coping strategies to maintain mental health. Strategies and resources are shared to practice healthy coping strategies and further resources that help healthy coping are given.
  • Healthy Coping Social Media Toolkit Implementation Guide and Social Media ImagesExample social media messages (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) encouraging healthy coping. 
  • COVID Trail Etiquette signs and implementation guide: Ideas for getting signage posted and where to place for best results. 



  • Peters D, Novak NL, Berg M. Resiliency and Vulnerability to COVID-19 in Small Towns. North America Meetings of the Regional Science Association. November 2021
  • Gauthreaux, N., Thompson, H., Morris, C., Bucklin, R., Tucker Reinders, L., Faber, E., Vander Weg, M., Afifi, R., Scherer, A., & Askelson, N. (2022, Nov 8). The COVID-19 infodemic in rural micropolitan communities in the Midwest: A qualitative analysis of Facebook comments to vaccine advertisements. American Public Health Association annual meeting. 150 Years of Creating the Healthiest Nation Leading the Path toward Equity. Boston, MA: November 6-8, 2022
  • Thompson, H., Bucklin, B., Gauthreaux, N., Ball, C., Yang, S., Steere, E., Maldonado, A., Faber, E., & Askelson, N.M. (2022, May 3). Identifying organizational predictors of burnout in the public health workforce during COVID-19: Qualitative interviews with Iowa public health leaders. Oral presentation at: Public Health Conference of Iowa. Ames, IA: May 3-5, 2022


  • Thompson, H., Bucklin, B., Gauthreaux, N., Ball, C., Steere., E., Faber, E., & Askelson, N. (2022, Nov 8). Organizational burnout in the public health workforce: Analyzing guided discussions with local public health department from a midwestern state during COVID-19. 150 Years of Creating the Healthiest Nation Leading the Path toward Equity. Boston, MA: November 6-8, 2022 
  • Daly, E., Evans., S., Lee, A., Bucklin, R., Maldonado, A., Berto, S., Askelson, N., & Afifi, R. Identifying COVID-19 relief and recovery needs in Ottumwa, Iowa. Public Health Conference of Iowa. Virtual: Apr 5-9, 2021