Digital Inclusion and COVID-19: Perspective of a public health student

I cannot help but notice the big irony. The 2020 graduation was something my cohort-mates and I have been yearning for after two intense and stressful years of our Master of Public Health program. Unexpectedly, we were then given a real-life case-study of an unprecedented public health crisis, COVID-19. Terms like incubation period, transmission rate, mortality rate, case-fatality rate, and herd-immunity on the news all sounded too familiar to the PowerPoint lecture in Dr. Johnson’s Epidemiology. Nevertheless, I chose to find the silver lining in every challenging situation. We now have the opportunity to recover from burnout during these slow times (some still fulfilling first-generation responsibilities) and hopefully, more people have a better understanding of the field of public health. Prevention. Intervention. Mitigation. 

As classes transition to “Zoom University” and students trying to learn, retain the material and submit quality assignments during a stressful period, I was fortunate that my course load during my last semester was 5 times less demanding than the previous three. “Thank goodness I defended my thesis in February.” 

One project that I had the opportunity to lead at my internship was the Digital Inclusion Initiative. A project spearheaded by The City of Long Beach in collaboration with five community organizations in Long Beach. As one of the five community organizations, Long Beach Forward was responsible for outreaching and recruiting community members to co-create a strategic plan through a set of workshops. This is a step in ensuring people in Long Beach have equitable access to digital resources (e.g., Internet, computers, digital resources). A lack of digital resources is a lack of opportunities, especially among low-income communities and communities of color. And so, this inclusive approach gives people a voice and power in the decision-making process.  

Unfortunately, the workshop that we all looked forward to on March 16th was postponed due to social distancing measures. I cannot help but to notice another irony- a digital inclusion workshop being postponed due to a pandemic where this is the time where people are in great need of access to digital resources. Thankfully, many wonderful COVID-19 Digital Inclusion Community Resources (i.e, low-cost internet, free Chromebooks) were shared by  in a matter of days targeting limited-income households and those that were affected by the pandemic. 

Perhaps, we can better pinpoint our needs and concerns regarding digital resources now than ever. Should institutions provide a take-home laptop or Ipads to every student, especially those from low-income families? Do we need a faster internet connection in certain neighborhoods? Should parents be educated on how to work the software that their children need to use for their homework assignments? Maybe workplaces need to have a “work from home” protocol to prepare for other similar events like this? 

Here are some of my concerns and needs:

Education on credible sources

How to processing emotions that come from being information overload 

How to protect your personal information online

A call for digital information privacy policies (e.g., prevent technology companies to sell our personal information without our consent)

With the spike of digital use in the past few months, what are some of your concerns and needs regarding digital access and resources? We would love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the upcoming Digital Inclusion Workshop (to be determined). Visit City of Long Beach- Digital Inclusion Initiative page or contact Long Beach Forward to be in the loop.

In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. It’s ok to not feel ok. Trust the process. Also, what is your silver lining? 

Josie Xing

Graduate Intern at Long Beach Forward

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