Lessons learned by Oregon State Extension Service agents in the early days of COVID-19 are now helping them reach out to marginalized communities along the Oregon coast about vaccination efforts. Dusti Linnell, assistant professor of practice with OSU Extension Service in Tillamook and Lincoln counties, is one of the key players in that work.

Only a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a seafood processor in Newport, Ore., was hit with a large outbreak of the virus. During the response to the outbreak, public health care workers and outreach groups like the Extension Service identified an important gap in services. There were few resources available in Spanish and the indigenous Guatemalan language Mam, both commonly spoken by workers at the plant.

Linnell recognized that providing prevention information and access to health services was crucial to stemming future outbreaks and addressing the current one. She joined up with Beatriz Botello Salgado, OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program, to offer assistance to the Lincoln County Health Department. They began offering support with contract tracing in Spanish, and then public outreach in Spanish and Mam through videos, radio and other media. They also gathered other community partners to broaden their work and their impact.

“We formed a group that we now call ‘Juntos en Colaboración,’ which means together in collaboration,” Linnell said. “This name exemplifies the deep-rooted collaboration of our group and we are still working together today.” The group is a collaboration between the OSU Extension Service, the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences Center for Health Innovation, Lincoln County Health and Human Services, Olalla Center and community members.

The team created videos that focused on critical health information, delivered by community members with the Spanish and Mam-speaking groups in the county. They posted the videos to a YouTube channel called Novedades del Condado de Lincoln (Lincoln County News. They were viewed more than 2,600 times. The Mam videos were especially popular and were shared across the western United States.

As a result of the group’s work, there is now a COVID-19 call in line in Mam, an increase in access to resources in Spanish, and a number of community meetings were held in Spanish to allow community members to ask experts their questions about the pandemic

Now that vaccines are available, the channels of communication established by their early work is now translating into getting members of those communities vaccinated. The county is offering additional clinics  and working on a partnership with Rite-Aid to bring community clinics closer to those populations. The group is now working on building vaccine confidence in the community as well as continuing to expand access to shot clinics.

Extension staff is now staffing vaccination clinics, including hiring Oregon State students to provide Spanish interpretation. New videos with information in Spanish and Mam about vaccinations have been posted on the YouTube channel as well

As they’ve learned, listening is key to their success.

“Our model of outreach worked. It started with asking community members what they want and need and then working with partners to tailor programs and services to meet those needs,” Linnell said. “That will continue to be at the center of our work in Extension. We will continue to dig deeper to identify what programs and services we can bring, or what partnerships we can make to help address inequities in our communities. I am hoping that some of the innovations in health care and public health will continue to be implemented post-pandemic.”

~ Theresa Hogue