September 2, 2020

✪ Implementation Science to Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic


Arianna Rubin Means, Anjuli D. Wagner, Eli Kern, Laura P. Newman, and Bryan J. Weiner

University of Washington affiliated authors are displayed in bold.

✪ Open Access

Published: September 2020

Read the full text in the open access journal Frontiers in Public Health


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to expand globally, requiring massive public health responses from national and local governments. These bodies have taken heterogeneous approaches to their responses, including when and how to introduce and enforce evidence-based interventions—such as social distancing, hand-washing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and testing. In this commentary, we reflect on opportunities for implementation science to contribute meaningfully to the COVID-19 pandemic response. We reflect backwards on missed opportunities in emergency preparedness planning, using the example of PPE stockpiling and supply management; this planning could have been strengthened through process mapping with consensus-building, microplanning with simulation, and stakeholder engagement.

We propose current opportunities for action, focusing on enhancing the adoption, fidelity, and sustainment of hand washing and social distancing; we can combine qualitative data, policy analysis, and dissemination science to inform agile and rapid adjustment to social marketing strategies to enhance their penetration. We look to future opportunities to enhance the integration of new evidence in decision-making, focusing on serologic and virologic testing systems; we can leverage simulation and other systems engineering modeling to identify ideal system structures. Finally, we discuss the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic challenges implementation science to become more rapid, rigorous, and nimble in its approach, and integrate with public health practice. In summary, we articulate the ways in which implementation science can inform, and be informed by, the COVID-19 pandemic, looking backwards, proposing actions for the moment, and approaches for the future.

Contributions to the Literature
  • The COVID-19 pandemic response has illuminated gaps in emergency preparedness planning that could be addressed by implementation scientists working in coordination with public health practitioners.
  • Classical implementation science tools and measures can be operationalized within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at each stage of the pandemic. Doing so empowers implementation scientists to apply their skillsets toward optimizing uptake of evidence-based interventions such as such as social distancing, hand washing, and personal protective equipment.
  • To be more responsive to public health emergencies, implementation science as a discipline must evolve to be more rapid, nimble, and policy-oriented in its approaches.

**This abstract is posted with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License**