“It’s not over yet. Mask-up”: JSU rolls out $420,000 campaign to combat COVID-19 among young Blacks

“It’s not over yet. Mask-up”: JSU rolls out $420,000 campaign to combat COVID-19 among young Blacks
JSU hopes to counter health disparities, raise awareness and change behaviors to combat COVID-19. (Source: Jackson State University)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s a plague that’s sweeping the nation.

No one is safe from COVID-19, but young Blacks in the Mid-South are higher targets, researchers say; and the government hand-picked Jackson State University to try and reverse the curse.

The CDC Foundation awarded JSU a $420,000 grant to curb high COVID-19 infections among African-Americans age 18-29 in Central Mississippi.

“We are not immune to the debilitating effects of the virus and our behaviors have a direct impact on family members,” JSU College of Health Sciences Professor, Dr. Girmay Berhie said.

Turquoise Sidibe, emergency response director, CDC Foundation said “Jackson State University demonstrated their ability to plan strategies, identify barriers and share lessons learned which will inform other communities in the South working to reach out to and protect African Americans communities.”

Currently, there are 161,516 total virus cases statewide, 46,845 Black and 54,964 white. As of now, 1,503 Blacks have died in Mississippi compared to 1,633 whites, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. To put those numbers in greater perspective, the Black population statewide is 37.8 % versus 59.1 percent for whites.

The JSU campaign theme is “It’s not over yet: Mask up.”

It features simple, straightforward messaging from minorities to other minorities through social media, townhalls, static and digital billboards, commercials and Infographics. JSU is also partnering with other state HBCUs, University of Mississippi Medical Center and long-term care facilities to raise awareness and change behaviors to combat the virus.

The school says the disparity of infection rates is rooted in economic variables.

“African Americans are more likely to work in service industries [without the possibility of teleworking], and have pre-existing health conditions,” Berhie said. Mississippi also has high concentrations of poverty correlated with concentrations of poor health.”

That’s not the only barrier.

Educators at JSU also say the awareness of clinical interventions and vaccine trials pose another challenge.

The school is trying to face these hurdles with community outreach in the form of town hall meetings, roundtable discussions and peer support groups to develop trust, share experiences and educate minorities of the benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Only time will tell if their message will be received.

Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.