Kent County Health Dept. launches COVID public information campaign targeted at young people


Courtesy of Steve Kelso

The Kent County Health Department put COVID-19 safety signs outside of local elementary schools

Steve Kelso, marketing and communications manager for the Kent County Health Department has a message for college students: Please stop gathering in large numbers, mask up, wash your hands, and practice social distancing. And get a flu shot. 

This message has taken on a new urgency. COVID-19 cases in Kent County are at a record high with no signs of slowing, and the age group with the most infections is 20-29 year-olds. 

So far, COVID-19 has infected 13,848 people and killed 179 in Kent County. “I have no reason to believe that we are at the top of the curve,” said Kelso. “Our [infection] rates right now are not good.”

The KCHD has been running a special public information campaign about coronavirus prevention ever since March. The basic message has remained the same. But as is typical with county-wide communication, they have tailored their message to specific groups.

“We recognized early on that we were going to have to do special outreach to…all kinds of different people,” stated Kelso.

Creating a robust effort to communicate with young people was always a top priority for the KHCD. “We understand that we have some significant issues [communicating with young people],” Kelso said. 

These efforts involved two main parts: a social media outreach effort and a partnership with local schools.  KCHD is using their Facebook,Twitter, and YouTube pages to share COVID-19 prevention information, as well as running ads on Instagram. 

At the Kent Intermediate School District and Grand Rapids Public Schools, KCHD is reaching students through brochures and flyers. Signs in English and Spanish encouraging mask wearing have been put up outside the elementary schools.

“We’re very encouraged by what we see in schools,” Kelso said, noting that few coronavirus cases have been traced back to classrooms, but that “unsanctioned events” such as house parties have caused problems. 

The Health Department is not able to tell whether or not their communications with young people are having a positive effect. “They’re not at a point where they are able to gather data,” said Kelso. However, he said that he heard anecdotally that people like their content.

KCHD has some unique age-related concerns about young people, especially the prevalence of an incorrect belief that COVID-19 only kills the elderly. 

The growing number of hospitalizations in Kent County is especially an area of concern because when hospitals are overcrowded,  quality of care goes down.

The marketing manager suggested that college students should reconsider the risks of visiting elderly relatives and even parents over the holidays, even though that might involve some hard conversations. 

“I don’t want to be so harsh as to say ‘Don’t be selfish,’ but don’t be selfish,” said Kelso.

Besides following the basic COVID guidelines already noted, the KHCD encouraged students to please cooperate with contact tracers if they call you.

 “I want your student body to understand that we get it. We went to college too,” Kelso said. “But we need you to make small sacrifices.”