Crushing COVID in Our Communities: Emergency Webinar Helps Spread the Word

The holidays are fast approaching and that means college students returning home, more family togetherness, and greater potential for community spread of COVID-19. With that in mind, the CDC Foundation is redoubling its efforts to assure community-based organizations (CBOs) have the tools and resources they need to keep their communities safe. On Thursday, November 5, we hosted the first in a series of webinars focused on the critical role CBOs and their partners play in addressing their communities’ unique populations and circumstances.

“Community-based organizations are crucial partners on the front lines of the pandemic,” said Judy Monroe, MD, CDC Foundation president and CEO. “You are central to ensuring important COVID-19 prevention messages are received and acted upon, as well as launching locally-focused programs to save and improve lives.”

Approximately 500 registrants from 48 states, Puerto Rico, USVI and Guam joined the webinar to share insights from their local jurisdictions, and to hear from subject matter experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Migrant Council, the Houston Health Department and the CDC Foundation. Several hundred more signed up for access to the webinar, which was posted to a new Foundation webpage that aggregates valuable resources, including holiday guidance, idea starters and examples of communications CBOs can use to reach their constituents.

The webinars provide an opportunity for CBOs to learn from one another, share best practices, challenges and solutions. What’s working? What’s not? What is the level of cooperation between grassroots organizations and local health departments?

Link Arms and Push Back

“How do we link arms and push back on the spread of this virus?,” asked Michael J. Beach, PhD, principal deputy incident manager, CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response. By clearly and consistently amplifying the key messages, boiled down to “4 Ws”:

• WEAR a mask

• WATCH your distance

• WASH your hands

• Be WARY of crowds

He stressed the need to promote protective mitigation measures as a ‘new norm’ for the time being, encourage community testing and participation in case investigations and contact tracing, and build trust and confidence for getting vaccinated, when a safe and effective vaccine becomes available.

One Size Does Not Fit All

While the science and messages are quite clear, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for getting the word out and motivating individuals and communities to comply with mitigation efforts. Maggie Rivera, CEO/president of the Illinois Migrant Council, and Scott Packard, chief communications and public affairs officer of the Houston Health Department shared their unique strategies for engaging stakeholders and members of the community.

For Rivera, whose CBO advocates for migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families in mostly rural areas of Illinois, the best approach for communication proved to be “the old-fashioned way,” directly, person-to-person. Methods include posting flyers in grocery stores, laundromats, and other places still open to the public.

Both Rivera and Packard talked of the importance of combatting misinformation, being culturally and linguistically sensitive, finding trusted partners to help carry out the message, and working closely with state and local health departments to secure the most up-to-date, reliable information. “The health departments have been our backbone,” Rivera said.

In Houston, the health department is utilizing a combination of earned media, paid media, social media ads and influencers, and community outreach to get out key messages. “We’ve reached more than 125,000 people directly so far… going door to door in high-priority neighborhoods... and we’re making sure that our outreach team is diverse,” Packard said. The department also created a one-stop shop, ProtectTheH.com with free tools and assets that community organizations can use to empower Houstonians and speak with a consistent voice.

Capacity-Building Assistance

The CDC Foundation is working directly with CBOs and health departments around the country to identify their toughest challenges and provide technical assistance to help build capacity to address pain points in local COVID-19 response efforts, especially among disproportionately affected and under-resourced communities.

We understand CBOs (e.g. social service agencies, nonprofit organizations, formal and informal community groups) may have limited resources and capacity to address this massive public health crisis. And we believe in the power of collaboration.

A Collective Call to Action

“The time is now… to dig even deeper to mobilize our communities to act decisively using the tools we have in our toolbox right now,” said the CDC Foundation’s Monroe in issuing a collective call to action. Let’s help our communities while protecting ourselves.

Together we can crush Covid.



Hannah Buchdahl is a COVID-19 Corps communications officer for the CDC Foundation.