While digital services can provide an environmental benefit, the COVID pandemic made digital access a global public health necessity, including in Madera County. At the start of 2020, Madera County Department of Public Health featured only one page on COVID, and Gregson stood as the only staff member in the agency dedicated to digital communications and was responsible for building the website.
“I wouldn’t say our website wasn’t viewed that often,” said Brian Gamble, Communications Program Manager, Madera County Department of Public Health, “but it didn’t have high traffic and people would randomly stumble upon it. Before the pandemic, our website had a lot of information that we wanted to streamline.”
Public Health Director Sara Bosse and Public Health Officer Dr. Simon Paul saw the need for transparency and decided early on to invest in technology and staff. “As the pandemic grew,” Gamble said, “so did our communication team and the audience — and they wanted more information.”
“It was a very active audience,” Gamble said. “It seemed like the first time we actually experienced people wanting to know about public health. We became very popular, very quickly. Popular, both in a negative and positive way. That was something new we had to navigate.”
As with other government organizations, Madera County Department of Public Health found themselves needing to act quickly and change to a more agile approach in a sector where incremental change is often more the norm.
“Like most government agencies, we initially focused on one-way outbound communication and tried to put accurate, quick, and quality information out there,” said Stephanie Nathan, Assistant Public Health Director, Madera County Department of Public Health. “But with COVID, we quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. Just providing information alone, wasn’t enough. People had very specific questions, especially at the very beginning when it first started because there was so much hysteria around it.”
With the amount of data and information at their fingertips, MCDPH looked to find a way to not only provide answers to the public and media, but also serve as a hub for communication that reached throughout their county.