I was able to participate as a volunteer in a project from NOVA National School of Public Health called Barómetro COVID-19 – Barometer COVID-19, in English (https://barometro-covid-19.ensp.unl.pt/home/). This ongoing project emerged in March 2020 from the lack of official information on how citizens were experiencing the pandemic and its effects and as the name indicates, this project was built to monitor behaviors, perceptions, attitudes, socioeconomic indicators, and the effect of measures to combat the pandemic. To do that it comprehends different areas to follow the different aspects of the pandemic: Social Opinion, Policies and Interventions, Occupational Health and COVID-19 Epidemiology.
I am part of this project since its beginning and assisted in its growth, which allowed me to participate in the work of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, epidemiologists, statisticians, economists, sociologists, psychologists, and physicians from different areas, and learn something in every step. As a PhD student in Public Health with a thesis focused on COVID-19, to be able to participate in this project centered on the pandemic social impacts was a great challenge and allowed me to see the power and importance that research can have in society by contributing with valid information in real-time. I will describe this notorious project for you to understand its great national relevance and its contributions to the decision-making and how it continues to do so.
Barometer COVID-19: Social Opinion is an online questionnaire that is answered weekly. There are core questions (mainly sociodemographic) and blocks of questions about risk perceptions, protective measures, confidence in government authorities and healthcare services response to the pandemic, access to medical appointments, emergency department, and treatments, access to other preventive care, access to vaccination; mental health and well-being; social and health inequalities. Some of these blocks are added and/or removed as the pandemic situation evolves (https://barometro-covid-19.ensp.unl.pt/opiniao-social/). This part of the project also received funding from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology so that it could be specifically applied to vulnerable populations, which concluded that in the first phase of the pandemic, the individuals with lower incomes had more difficulty in acquiring protective masks and that these too people needed to leave home to work. Also standing out as a conclusion of this study, a greater loss of income in younger people and people with less education.
Barometer COVID-19: Policies and Interventions analyses by comparison the measures taken in different countries to produce a relevant learning experience in this context, since the rapid spread of the virus required quick and appropriate responses in terms of health policies. In the beginning of the pandemic, without some of the therapeutic weapons that we are used to, such as the use of medicines or vaccines, we were left with answers based on strategies tried out in combating previous situations. (https://barometro-covid-19.ensp.unl.pt/politicas-e-intervencoes/Resultados/)
Barometer COVID-19: Occupational Health aimed to generate scientific knowledge that allows action in the future to ensure the health and safety of health professionals. Also, as many people were forced to remote working, this part of the project was also focused on the work conditions of these individuals and on the potential health effects of the remote work. (https://barometro-covid-19.ensp.unl.pt/saude-ocupacional/)
Barometer COVID-19: Epidemiology develops mathematical models that allows, through the analysis of data from other countries, to predict the evolution of COVID-19 cases in Portugal, for a short period of time. They also allow for spatial analysis to distinguish and compare the different behaviors in the evolution of the pandemic in Portugal (https://barometro-covid-19.ensp.unl.pt/epidemiology-of-covid-19/interactive-epidemiology-of-covid-19/). Some conclusions of this part of the project confirmed that the pandemic spatial variation depends on several contextual and regional factors and the policy of different health measures in different regions in different times was, at that time, a fair solution.
The whole project had and continuous to have several important results that impact society. The presentations and reports carried out for the Portuguese government stand out, focused not only on the social perception of the pandemic and in the behaviors that people were or were not adopting to protect themselves, as well as in predicting trends so that governments could make the most informed decisions possible. The scientific papers produced by this project also generated robust knowledge that can be useful in future situations.