The COVID-19 pandemic is confronting our communities in extraordinary ways. Leaders and community groups are being asked to address new challenges and make difficult decisions.

The situation is evolving almost too quickly for researchers to analyze. Still, we can look to data from the recent past to build our understanding of the places where we live and work. Learning about our community by looking at data can help us understand which people may be hit most hard. We can also better imagine how businesses will be affected. With data in hand, leaders can make informed (but still difficult) decisions.

For county leaders and organizations, a new resource from the Center for Economic and Community Development can help. The Center recently released a series of county profiles. The profiles review important population, quality of life, economic, and agricultural information. Each profile includes figures and tables about your county and others for comparison. Discussion questions help you think about what the data reveal about your county. You can download your county profile by visiting: resolveuid/aa303d58000a467fbf7e9f31582efcb5

These reports can help you identify challenges and opportunities in your county. Already, you're likely aware of many challenges that your county is facing as a result of this pandemic. It's easy to become dismayed, and imagining 'opportunities' may seem too optimistic. We believe that communities can make better decisions when they are aware of their vulnerabilities. Being aware of challenges can create opportunities.

To help you think through the impacts of COVID-19 for the communities you serve, we've created some new questions:

1. Consider your county's population and quality-of-life data. Which groups of individuals might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

1a. How might the health and well-being of these groups be impacted?

1b. How might these groups be impacted in terms of employment and income?

Each profile covers a range of topics that can help you explore these questions. Pay particular attention to data about your county's age structure (p. 4), race and ethnicity mix (p. 8), poverty rates (p. 11), SNAP participation rates (p. 12), housing characteristics (p. 15), health insurance coverage (p. 17), other health indicators such as diabetes and obesity (p. 18), and internet connectivity.

2. Consider the economic and industry data for your county. What immediate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are you seeing? What are some potential longer-term implications that you might want to consider?

Pay particular attention to data about your county's household incomes (p. 21), unemployment rate (p. 23), employment sectors (p. 25), top industries (p. 26), top employers (p. 27), farm employment (p.35), and consumer food expenditures (p. 36). Looking again at poverty rates (p. 11), SNAP participation rates (p. 12), housing characteristics (p. 15), and health insurance coverage (p. 17) may be helpful, as well.

3. How might this data inform your response to challenges related to COVID-19?

4. Can you identify creative ways to address the challenges facing your county? How might you respond to future challenges?

5. It is likely that an issue of this scale may occur again in our lifetimes. How can you use the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to build resilience in your county?