As the pandemic reaches three years, the public has wearied of COVID-19 and may not feel motivated to engage with important health messaging. At the same time, without proper precautions COVID-19 can still cause significant illness and even death. To continue engaging people, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has adapted its approach to discussing COVID-19 with clients by mainstreaming the conversation and inserting it into contextually appropriate conversation entry points.
Incorporating COVID-19 into Medical Screening Processes
IRC in Elizabeth, NJ has worked to incorporate COVID-19 education into the initial medical screening process for all newly arrived clients. The initial medical screening is a process that screens for a range of infectious diseases and non-communicable conditions within 90 days of arrival to the US. During the screening, healthcare providers also inquire about health concerns, introduce the US healthcare system, and facilitate needed urgent or specialty care.
While accompanying clients to their health screening, IRC in Elizabeth staff members use common appointment waiting times to cover a list of health and wellness topics, including COVID-19. Staff have found that normalizing COVID-19 topics into larger health conversations, as compared to having COVID-19 specific activities, has had a two-fold effect. First, it creates multiple opportunities for staff to discuss COVID-19 questions and concerns with clients, building incremental trust through each interaction. Secondly, the normalization of COVID-19 helps mitigate the impact of COVID-fatigue when it is approached as one piece of the broader conversation on health promotion and well-being. Whenever applicable, the staff member also shares language-specific and culturally appropriate resources in a variety of mediums, including video, print, and audio. Examples of resources may include audio recordings for how to use at-home COVID-19 rapid tests, animated videos that explore what COVID-19 variants are, and fact sheets that provide more in-depth information about specific client concerns. If a client has a question that requires further conversation, the staff member will schedule a follow up meeting to continue this tailored approach. IRC Elizabeth staff use a tracker to denote which topics have and have not been covered so that they may resume in subsequent meetings.
Incorporating COVID-19 into Non-Medical Activities
IRC Sacramento is also mainstreaming COVID-19 conversations, by incorporating the topic into activities such as job readiness trainings, English classes, driving lessons, and cultural orientation. During these classes, staff give brief updates about COVID-19, offer help in scheduling appointments for vaccines and boosters, and encourage conversations around questions and concerns that clients may have. Conversations are contextualized; for example, in job readiness there may be a topic on employers requiring the COVID-19 vaccine while in driving lessons people may discuss whether to wear a mask on the care while taking lessons. Rather than feeling that the topic COVID-19 is out of place, RIM participants have expressed that they find these “micro-lessons” to be efficient and respectful of their time.
Quote: Incorporating COVID-19 into conversations and classes normalizes the topic and utilizing a brief format recognizes COVID-19-fatigue. This approach provides reliable information, builds trust and leaves the door open for future discussions about health and wellness.