Evaluating the impacts of county-level COVID-19-related policies on disparities in educational and health outcomes among California youth

The COVID-19 pandemic led to tremendous financial hardship for vulnerable Americans. Unemployment was nearly 15% at its peak in Apr 2020. The U.S. child poverty rate rose from 14.4% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2020. Black, Latinx, and low-income families were the hardest hit. In-person schooling, which supports children’s nutrition, physical activity, and mental health, was also disrupted: California had more drastic school closures than nearly any other state. Given these hardships, it’s no surprise that food insecurity among households with children rose from 13.6% in 2019 to 14.8% in 2020. Meanwhile, school closures led to mental health problems and lower test scores among adolescents.

We know policies can either worsen or improve health problems. On the one hand, policies that required business closures led to income loss. On the other hand, social policies like eviction bans helped families stay housed. These policies differed a lot from county to county. Our own work is the first to document the differences in pandemic policy responses across counties.

In work funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) that will be completed by this summer, we are collecting weekly data on over 25 policies in more than 300 counties in all 50 states for 2020-2021 to create the U.S. COVID-19 County Policy (UCCP) Database. It includes 31 California counties. In this proposal, we will link UCCP policy data with educational and health data from California state agencies. We will examine the effects of county policies on children’s school attendance, suspensions, test scores, and health. We will also examine if there were differences in how policies affected people in different racial/ethnic and income groups. 


  • California Policy Lab (CPL)
  • CA Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Health Care Access and Information