In December 2020, three friends concerned about the misinformation and lack of coordinated information about the COVID 19 virus in Lycoming County decided to continue their discussions in a more consistent, organized manner.
The three friends – a retired physician, a business owner and a public health and safety educator – began by identifying people who could add to this discussion and help reach the community.
Members included representation from the medical, pharmaceutical, public education, media, human services, education, business, faith and public service communities; working and retired professionals who represent those services that would help reach the goal.
And so “Let’s end COVID!” was formed.
The group has met weekly since then (with the exception of two meetings during holiday weeks.) The Public Education committee also meets every week.
One of our first achievements was the series of weekly editorials in the weekend edition of the Williamsport Sun Gazette, thanks to the newspaper’s editor joining our team. These articles, which are also sent to the Sun’s sister papers, are written by Let’s end COVID members and other community members invited to address specific COVID topics, concerns and information “gaps”. Topics ranged from how the virus spreads to vaccine and masking hesitancy to testimonials of people who survived COVID or lost loved ones to the infection.
During the first few months media coverage was provided through community in-kind and 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.
An extensive well thought-out targeted public education campaign followed, using local “trusted messengers” to address vaccine hesitancy in resistant populations. Different groups have different reasons for resisting. Rumors, misinformation and myths circulating within our communities threaten the safety of individuals, their families and communities. Research shows one of the most effective ways to influence change is the word of a trusted local individual, such as physicians, pastors, vets, and local celebrities and other recognizable individuals.
For example, family doctors discussing the scientific data, anticipated side effects and effectiveness of the vaccine have proven to be 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, monies were used to purchase and develop radio, newspaper and tv ads, social media, bus signs, and Crosscutters ballpark signs. The audiences the various mediums reach are aligned with messaging specific to targeted audiences and communities.
Numerous posters and flyers duplicating billboard messaging or developed for other venues, including businesses, restaurants and public/private vaccine clinics, were distributed to heighten community/employee awareness and to promote the vaccines, boosters and the availability of both.
Most recently, Let’s end COVID! had the opportunity to assist Roads to Freedom(RTF) with public information and education to reach that agency’s clientele. While promoting financial incentives to urge personal care attendants to get vaccinated and/or boosted to protect both themselves and their vulnerable patients, a new approach renews information of the mask as protecting the vulnerable and to “Respect the mask”. Grant monies through RTF support the campaign.
Members of Let’s end COVID! have given hundreds of hours of their personal and professional time to meet weekly, write articles and media copy, develop and maintain the website, photograph messengers, design media and print materials and to arrange mailings, newsletter inserts and school outreach. No one receives financial compensation for their time, and many have also contributed financially. The success of Let’s end COVID! lies in the energy, creativity and dedication of our members.
As one member commented “I’m excited to work with this group of people. Unlike a lot of groups, you get things done!”
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.