KU team publishes guide for communities to reach overlooked populations in COVID-19 communications

LAWRENCE — The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred many debates about trustworthy sources on health, vaccine safety and testing. Underresourced communities who have a history of mistrust of government and the health care system were especially challenged in finding reliable information. A University of Kansas project turned to trusted community leaders across the state to deliver accurate, accessible and culturally appropriate multimedia messages for racial and ethnic minority populations, and KU researchers have now published a step-by-step guide for others to replicate the project.

While racial and ethnic communities were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, historical traumas and systematic discrimination had long contributed to a distrust of the government and medical industry. Misinformation about vaccines and testing only exacerbated those challenges. The Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics — Underserved Populations, or RADx-UP, was a federally funded project to address those challenges. As part of that project, KU researchers on multiple campuses launched “Community Workers Beat the Virus,” a multimedia campaign that developed videos, social media posts, print and radio ads to address COVID-19 concerns. The campaign was born in early 2020 at a town hall meeting as part of RADx-UP when underresourced community representatives expressed concerns on how to relay good information to their local population.

“In the early days of the COVID pandemic, delayed health communication from official sources —particularly in languages other than English — a disconnect between public health systems and underresourced communities, and existing mistrust hindered the dissemination of needed health information among the most vulnerable. Community leaders who had the connections and trust of their communities were ideal collaborators and ambassadors for this project,” said Mariana Ramirez, director of JUNTOS Center for Advancing Latino Health at KU Medical Center.

The team engaged community leaders — including community health workers, a school principal and a nun — who delivered messages about testing, dispelled myths about vaccines and shared information on locally available resources. The spots were filmed in recognizable local locations chosen by those featured in the videos and included footage of local families and communities.

In one year, the project produced 46 thirty-second video clips in seven languages: English, Spanish, Swahili, Portuguese, Hindi, Nepali and Dzongkha for 10 urban and rural Kansas counties. The project also produced 52 Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram posts in Spanish and English, two print ads in multiple local newspapers and 27 thirty-second radio spots. The videos and social media posts are available on the Juntos KS YouTube channel and the RADx-UP Kansas site.

The research team now has published a step-by-step recounting of “Community Workers Beat the Virus,” detailing information gathering, community leader engagement, budget, evaluation and lessons from the project. The guide, written by Yvonnes Chen, professor of journalism & mass communications at KU; Ramirez; Crystal Lumpkins of the University of Utah; Broderick Crawford of the NBC Community Development Corporation; and Drs. Allen Greiner and Edward Ellerbeck, faculty members at KU Medical Center, was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“We knew rumors and misinformation were abundant when the vaccines first came out. Our PSAs addressed that with people sharing their stories,” Chen said. “It’s important to use their words to disseminate accurate information. We knew underresourced communities had a long distrust toward government and the medical system because of historical traumas. Hearing from trusted community leaders and addressing legitimate concerns was a powerful way to share valid information.”

The published article also details how the research team developed the infrastructure of local health equity action teams featuring community members, public health workers, social service organizations, clinics and others.

“We wanted to learn more about how we can mobilize communities and invest in their leaders to improve health equity in Kansas,” Chen said. “By being mindful of local, legitimate concerns and reflecting cultural values in our messages, we can tailor communications in a resonant way.”

Video credit: Community Workers Beat the Virus

Wed, 12/07/2022


Mike Krings

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