In December 2020 three friends – a retired physician, a business owner and a public health and safety educator – were concerned about the misinformation and lack of consistent, reliable information about the COVID-19 pandemic in Lycoming County. They decided to continue their discussions in a more consistent, organized manner.
The three began by identifying people who could add to this discussion and help reach the community. The group they assembled included representation from the medical, pharmaceutical, public education, media, human services, education, business, faith, and public service communities. These working and retired professionals brought a wide range of experience and skills to the campaign they decided to call “Let’s end COVID!” The group has met weekly since then (except for a few holiday breaks) and soon launched the Public Education committee that also meets weekly.
On January 30, 2021, the group published its first editorial in the weekend edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. This on-going series, written by Let’s end COVID! members and others from the community, has covered specific COVID topics, concerns and information “gaps,” ranging from how the virus spreads to immune system response to vaccine and masking hesitancy, along with testimonials by people who have survived COVID or lost loved ones to the infection.
Rumors, misinformation and myths circulating within our communities threaten the safety of individuals, their families and communities. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to bring about change is through trusted messengers such as physicians, pastors, veterans, local celebrities and other locally recognizable individuals. Let’s end COVID! has taken this approach in our extensive, well-thought-out targeted public education campaign to address vaccine hesitancy in resistant populations.
For example, family doctors discussing the scientific data, anticipated side effects and effectiveness of the vaccines have been a reliable resource for concerned patients. Several local physicians recorded radio and tv ads and were featured on billboards in strategic Lycoming County locations. Other reluctant groups we identified included people of color, young women (fertility concerns), rural males, young adults/teens, parents, and members of conservative religious communities. We recruited respected people within these groups to assist with media outreach.
Besides billboards and public media ads, Let’s end COVID! has used social media, bus signs, Crosscutters ballpark signs, yard signs, posters, and flyers to heighten community/employee awareness, to share consistent, trustworthy information about COVID-19, and to promote the vaccines, boosters, and the availability of both. The group has hosted numerous vaccine clinics.
At first, the Let’s end COVID! campaign media coverage and other kinds of outreach were provided through community and in-kind donations. With the support of the Lycoming County Commissioners Let’s end COVID! obtained $100,000 in Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) funding. An additional $50,000 was provided by a HUD Block grant though the City of Williamsport. Group member River Valley Health and Dental administered the funds. More recently, Roads to Freedom (RTF) and STEP, Inc. generously shared funds they received from pandemic grants to continue the Let’s end COVID! campaign, focusing on the vulnerable clients and older adults those organizations serve.
Now the group has partnered with the Black Equity Coalition to address concerns of communities of color.
The “Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition” was convened to ensure an equitable response to the coronavirus pandemic based on socio-economic and culturally relevant data. Realizing that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the health, well-being, and economic stability of people of color highlighted the need to address institutional racism and structural impediments that continue to plague Black, undervalued and underserved communities, the group became the Black Equity Coalition (BEC), committed to working on matters of racial equity beyond the pandemic’s eventual end.
BEC comprises physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health and health care practitioners, social scientists, community funders, academics, activists, government officials, and non-profit and business leaders. BEC’s culturally appropriate responses are designed to reduce health inequities, improve health and well-being in general, and address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable populations.
The Black Equity Coalition has identified Let’s end COVID! as an “ambassador” for Lycoming County. BEC provides resource material to raise awareness of health disparities, creates vaccine opportunities to underserved locations, and delivers health-related education to Lycoming County residents. Additional funding support through BEC is helping Let’s end COVID! to continue its work as the pandemic moves into its next phase.
When we shared an earlier version of this “history” last April, we didn’t know whether COVID would still be with us in a year’s time. Although the pandemic seems to be easing, COVID is still here.
Well, so are we! Are you “up to date” with all of your recommended vaccinations and any boosters you’re eligible for? If you’re not, our next vaccination clinic will be on Saturday April 22 from 10-1 at River Valley Health and Dental, 431 Hepburn Street. Join us!
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!