By: Toni Nigro, FFL ’20, OSU-COM OMS III
As the citywide shut down of Tulsa came and went during the summer, many young Tulsans were pushed to return to something close to life-before-quarantine. Overall in Tulsa, COVID-19 cases have continued to rise. The one age demographic that has seen a particularly sharp increase in cases are those younger than 35 years of age. It is no wonder why —many have returned to school, returned to their jobs, and attended gatherings such as weddings and small get-togethers. Many of this demographic are asymptomatic – people for whom the virus silently passes yet spreads.
The sharp increase in COVID-19 cases among the under 35 demographic is what spurred local physician, Dr. Sarah-Anne Schumann (FFL ’94), and Tulsa City-County Health Department Executive Director, Dr. Bruce Dart, to approach The Albert Schweitzer Fellows for Life to generate solutions. Drs. Schumann and Dart, on behalf of the city-county board of health, were searching for ideas to increase awareness of safety precautions – and ultimately behavior change – for those under 35. A group of Fellows For Life – Chris McNeil (’17), Meredith Wyatt (’16), Brooke Tuttle (’17) and myself – developed a strategy to include voices of public school students and older youth using social media. The main vehicle for the strategy is an Instagram social media campaign to inspire our generation to address the 3 W’s – Wear your mask, Wash your hands and Watch your distance.
We created a dedicated Instagram page, @tulsanswhomask, where youth contribute to an online collective of ideas and creative expression to lower rates of COVID-19 among their demographic. As a medical student at OSU College of Osteopathic Medical School, I had many connections to health clubs that were eager to participate and represent the 20-30 yr old age group. As a way to connect with younger youth, we partnered with The After Opportunity Project to identify middle school youth in Tulsa Public Schools as leaders of @tulsanswhomask messaging outreach. Two current Schweitzer Fellows, Michael Crockett and Stephen Klaassen, will incorporate this initiative into their Schweitzer health outreach project with students at Union High School. By allowing middle and high school youth to create their own public health messaging, they are able to express their thoughts and feelings in a public manner while also motivating other youth to make responsible and healthy decisions to combat the spread of COVID-19.
@tulsanswhomask will be a public health initiative where young Tulsans come together and share why the 3 W’s are essential to improve health outcomes in the community. This one form of communication will not solve the root of the rising COVID-19 cases. Yet, this campaign will be a platform where youth can join together for a common cause, a tool to combat COVID-19 cases for those under 35.