An open letter from public health, education, and infectious disease experts in Connecticut, New York City, and Washington, DC:

April 2, 2020

Dear concerned residents of Connecticut, 

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in global history. There is no playbook for responding to an epidemiological event of this scope and magnitude. During this trying time, we must harness scientific principles and lessons from the past and advice from other nations as the compass for our response. Interventions from recent epidemics that have proven to be successful must be applied and implemented swiftly.

It is our belief that the most effective response goes to the heart of the problem: (1) slowing the spread of COVID-19, and (2) providing essential services for the most vulnerable members of our community. The effort described below is essential to move Connecticut towards the COVID-19 Recovery Phase

The Problem:

Our local non-profits, which collectively provide essential infrastructure for delivering critically important social services, are being pushed far beyond their capacity. During this crisis, they are attempting to deal with a huge increase in client needs, reduced funding and, just as importantly, a debilitating loss of the volunteers who ultimately make the delivery of services possible. The members of our community who typically step up are over 40 years of age, and many key volunteers are senior citizens or parents. This group is being forced to stay home. Thousands of Connecticut residents are suffering, alone, and desperately needing help. At the same time, our non-profit healthcare system will need more Registered Nurses, Patient Care Technicians, Personal Care Assistants, and Certified Nursing Assistants in the coming months. We must somehow fill this “people power” void.

In short: 

  • Our non-profits, who have relied heavily on help from individuals aged 40 years and older, will require thousands of young, trained volunteers to ensure those in need receive vital resources ― now, and for many months to come. 
  • Right now, we are not using an evidence-based communication intervention to recruit or train volunteers during the COVID-19 outbreak. This will lead to mistakes, fear, and stigma.
  • If we don’t improve residents’ empathy, trust, and knowledge, fewer people will join healthcare professions.

The Solution:

Much of the work needed to support this overwhelmed social services safety net can be done in relative safety “behind the scenes.” Without any direct contact with clients, young volunteers (ages 18 to 34 years), who have been instructed in how to maintain their personal safety by experts and have been provided with personal safety gear, can provide the fuel needed to keep our non-profits running. They can package food to be delivered, construct masks and face shields, keep records monitoring the delivery of services, etc. We must act now and reach out to this young adult population. We must (1) inform them; (2) motivate them; (3) and then show them exactly when and how to help.

Over time, part of this population will become a direct pipeline for new healthcare professionals. Trained volunteers will be empowered to become Registered Nurses, Personal Care Technicians, Personal Care Assistants, Certified Nursing Assistants, etc. 

How We Do It:

To accomplish this, we are developing and launching a Social Media and Public Education Campaign to Engage and Train Young Adults to Help Safely, directly targeted at 18-to-34-year-old Connecticut residents. We have assembled a leading team of medical, educational, and communication professionals to help guide and execute this evidence-based communications intervention.This team has extensive experience and proven expertise in developing and executing highly impactful communication campaigns in response to the SARS, Ebola, Zika, and HIV/AIDS epidemics.

Furthermore, this effort has already gained the support of numerous elected officials, community leaders, student activists, and a growing number of local non-profits. The vast majority of the young people who have been informed about this project ㄧ including dozens of postdoctoral associates at Yale University ㄧ have enthusiastically stated their desire to participate.  

How to Help:

We urge you to join us now. Our team has worked hundreds of pro-bono hours, working closing with community members and our chief communications partner, Ogilvy. For the past 30 years, Ogilvy’s D.C. office has helped communities navigate critical public health emergencies. They are offering to build this campaign at heavily reduced costs, knowing that their work and partnership is vital in the current climate.

Our quick response and sacrifices mean the campaign will launch in Connecticut by April 10. To that end, we ask that you consider a gift to the campaign’s fiduciary: Moving With H.O.P.E., a 501(c)3 non-profit. Your generosity will ensure that we can expand this initiative and employ researchers, grant writers, and interns, helping us engage and train thousands of young adults in Connecticut.

Signed (affiliations for identification purposes only),

  • Dr. Anne Wyllie, Team Lead, COVID-19 Emergency Response at Yale University; Associate Research Scientist, Dept. of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health
  • Dr. Carlos Chirinos, Associate Professor of Clinical Music & Global Health, NYU School of Global Public Health; Director, NYU Music & Social Change Lab
  • Dr. Mari Armstrong-Hough, Assistant Professor of Public Health, Dept. of Social & Behavioral Sciences & Dept. of Epidemiology, NYU School of Global Public Health
  • Dr. Maikel Boot, Chair, Yale Postdoctoral Association, Yale University; Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale School of Medicine; former Chief Editor, Festival Newspaper
  • Dr. Tim Dzurilla, consultant, economics & community development; former CEO and Chair, University of Connecticut Co-op Bookstore
  • Rohan Verma, MPH, Vice President, Digital Strategist; Ogilvy; former Director of Marketing, Clinical Care Options
  • Chelsea Strandberg, MPH, consultant & business advisor, public health & education campaigns; past employers & clients: Public Health Institute, Chemonics International (gov't contracting, USAID), Rescue Agency, & Ogilvy