Friday, February 3, 2023

Data shows how areas within a locality could be vulnerable to the pandemic

The Virginia Public Access Project has published a map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that grade sections of localities on social vulnerability based on data from the U.S. Census tract. (WYDaily/VPAP)
The Virginia Public Access Project has published a map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that grade sections of localities on social vulnerability based on data from the U.S. Census tract. (WYDaily/VPAP)

The Virginia Public Access Project has published a new map that shows Virginia’s vulnerable areas during the pandemic.

The first map uses the Social Vulnerability Index created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and looks at 15 different factors ranging from poverty, lack of access to transportation and crowded housing. These factors help determine the resilience of a community when faced with an external stress such as a natural disaster or pandemic.

“This perspective is not just looking at a community’s physical environment when disaster planning but rather taking in consideration the human and social factors,” Wendy Evans, human services director for Williamsburg, wrote in an email.

The index ranges from the lowest vulnerability levels at .1 and the highest at .9. In the Historic Triangle, localities are marked at various points on this scale. This information is compiled based on the U.S. Census tract. Tracts are subdivisions of counties on which the census collects statistical data.

For example, the lower portion of James City County is rated at .95 while upper portions are between .2 and .4 on the scale. In Williamsburg, the lower portion of the city is rated at a .26 and the upper portion at a .69.

Rebecca Vinroot, director of social services for the county, said data such as this is a huge help in determining where services should be directed.

“I think anytime we have something like this that pulls information together, it’s relevant for us when we look to target programs or services,” she said. 

Vinroot said since James City County is geographically diverse and has a larger footprint, information like this can help understand how particular centralized service areas are impacting the county as a whole.

For example, she said the pandemic has shown that outreach programs are more important than ever as opposed to simply having residents come to the Human Services building for what they need. A map like this allows the county to better understand the ways people do, or don’t, have access to certain needs.

Evans said the data used to compile the map includes factors that may impact evacuation planning, whether a community has the resources to recover from a loss of property or in the case of a pandemic, if the community has the resources to survive a stressed economy.

She added in the case of disaster planning, Williamsburg maintains a Special Needs Registry for residents who might need special assistance during a disaster or crisis. This registration allows the team at the Emergency Operations Center to respond and reach out during a crisis.

“We encourage community members who might be dependent on electricity for medical devices, have barriers to evacuation or sheltering, or have any other special needs to register with the city,” she said. 

This registry became useful when the pandemic first came to the area and Virginia entered into a State of Emergency. During that time, staff reviewed the Special Needs Registry and was able to reach out to residents who needed additional services.

But Evans said the Human Services Department in Williamsburg is also looking at ongoing prevention services, including advocacy and case management, that help address residents and their families. Social workers with the city assist residents with various goals in order to increase resilience by addressing economic, financial and health needs.

As the pandemic continues, localities find that any form of compiled data such as this are important to helping to address the needs of a community in the future.

“It’s helpful anytime you have something that pulls everything together in an area,” Vinroot said.

To view the Social Vulnerability Index map, visit the Virginia Public Access Project online.


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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