Healthy Community, Healthy Campus

As COVID-19 began impacting university students across the United States, many higher education institutions took steps to prevent the spread of the virus on campus. Often, however, these efforts did not extend to surrounding communities, limiting their effectiveness.

Along with its on-campus efforts, the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) took steps to broaden the impact of its COVID prevention efforts by partnering with the City of Davis and other key community stakeholders on a project called Healthy Davis Together (HDT). The project combined epidemiological infectious disease control measures and health behavior change interventions to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HDT initiative offered mobile testing and vaccination sites, public outreach and messaging to encourage healthy behaviors, wastewater testing to detect COVID-19 at the community level, contact tracing to augment county efforts and one-on-one health education through 200 undergraduate students trained as public health ambassadors. From November 2020 through June 2022, when HDT’s free community COVID-19 testing program ended, HDT conducted more than 870,000 saliva-based COVID tests, resulting in 15,825 positive detections. To help raise awareness, the CDC Foundation supported HDT’s public health communications.

HDT’s Business Partner Program, run by the City of Davis in collaboration with the Davis Chamber of Commerce and the Davis Downtown Business Association, also helped business owners adopt or adapt safety practices. The program provided partners with grants, personal protective equipment, employee COVID-19 testing, patron incentives, marketing and public health education materials.

According to an analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health and an independent evaluation, the impact of the HDT project was significant. Healthy Davis Together helped prevent more than 4,100 cases of COVID-19 in the first 16 months alone, reducing case counts by 60 percent in Davis, avoiding 275 COVID-related hospitalizations and averting 35 COVID-related deaths.

In addition to the impact on public health, the independent analysis found Healthy Davis Together was highly cost-effective. While the project spent $34.1 million on activities in Davis through January 2022, of which more than three-quarters went toward clinical testing costs, the Davis community saved an estimated $112.7 million in retained wages, averted health care costs and the value created by the years of lives not lost: a 200 percent to over 300 percent return on investment.

Though the testing program ended in June, the City of Davis and UC Davis continue to collaborate with other communities and universities on wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 and other pathogens.

Healthy Davis Together demonstrates the incredible power of partnerships to affect change. As future public health threats continue to emerge, the insights, learnings and tools created by Healthy Davis Together are available for other cities to use to address public health challenges in their communities.

David Snyder
David Snyder is the content director for the CDC Foundation.