Health department launches billboard campaign to encourage mask wearing, flu vaccination

Published 5:09 pm Thursday, October 22, 2020

SALISBURY — Masks have become a fixture of everyday life and now they might be a part of Rowan Countians’ daily commutes as well.

The Rowan County Health Department recently placed nine new billboards around the county that promote the use of masks and advocate for people to get the flu vaccine. The billboards are a part of new Health Department’s campaign.

“Our idea is really to try to promote the idea that mask wearing is our new community norm,” said Alyssa Harris, the county’s community health manager. “I know a lot of people don’t like wearing masks. It can be uncomfortable, but this is what we have to do right now to protect our health and the health of our loved ones and families and friends.”

Although the state of North Carolina is still mandating that masks be worn in public places, Harris said that the health department is not seeing “100% compliance.” Masks, Harris said, are one of the most effective tools to impede the spread of COVID-19. 

“We know that the mask mandate has been in effect for a while now. We know that there is a lot of promotion for wearing masks,” Harris said. “You see that on TV or in stores if you’re going to the grocery store. But we also know that not everyone is doing that.”

The billboards have been placed not only to benefit Rowan County residents, Harris said, but also to notify people who are driving through the area for travel or work.

Harris said that the billboards were put up intentionally to coincide with the rapidly approaching flu and cold season. The health department is making a push to encourage mask wearing and for people to get their flu vaccines as soon as possible to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 illnesses.

“We really want to make sure that people are going to get their flu shot,” Harris said. “That will reduce the number of people who can get the flu and pass it on. The other thing to think about is, if you get the flu, your immune system is down so you’re more likely to contract another disease like COVID-19 and what we’re hearing is that it is sort of the perfect storm. We really don’t want to see anybody with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time because that increases their likelihood of having a poor health outcome.”

Of the nine billboards that have been placed around Rowan County, six will be in English and three will be in Spanish. Posting the messages in Spanish is part of a concerted effort by the health department to reach Hispanic residents. Even though only 9% of Rowan County residents identify as Hispanic, Harris said that members of the Hispanic community have accounted for 24% of COVID-19 cases in the county. The billboards that feature Spanish messages will be placed strategically in or around Hispanic communities.

In order to provide Hispanic communities with better access to testing, the Rowan County Health Department recently hired Lorena Villarreal to serve as a Hispanic testing coordinator.

Since then, the health department has hosted multiple testing events at Hispanic or LatinX grocery stores.

The COVID-19 and flu billboard campaign will last for about eight weeks, at which point the health department will reevaluate its messaging push. For more information about COVID-19, the flu and resources that are available in Rowan County, visit www.rowancountync.gov/256/Health-Department.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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