New Edmonton group wants to use positive online messaging to support COVID-19 guidelines

COVID Scouts is a semi-finalist in Alberta Health Service's i4 Launchpad competition, a pitch contest that showcases ideas on how to tackle current health-care challenges.

COVID Scouts a semi-finalist in AHS search for ideas to tackle health challenges

COVID Scouts hopes to reframe the conversation around personal protective equipment to encourage more people wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (Shutterstock)

A new group in Edmonton plans to use positive and engaging messages to help convince the public to buy into measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID Scouts initiative brings in local online influencers and community leaders to provide information about how to stop the spread of the illness.

Adam Henley, a registered nurse who's helped organize the group, said it aims to use social media posts and videos to educate and promote awareness about the disease, especially in city neighbourhoods that are at increased risk.

Henley worried that as health enforcement persists, people feel more fatigued to its messages. He hopes his group can find long-term strategies to keep COVID-19 health recommendations on the public's mind.

"All the talk right now is that the fall will be a wave of COVID, and the idea is if COVID spreads easily so should health-promoting behaviours," Henley told CBC's Radio Active.

"So how can we spread health-promoting behaviours at the same rate that COVID spreads? That's the whole impetus behind this."

Semi-finalist in AHS competition

COVID Scouts is a semi-finalist in Alberta Health Service's i4 Launchpad competition, a pitch contest that showcases ideas on how to tackle current health-care challenges. Participants present their projects to a live audience and panel of experts for a chance to win.

Henley said a coordinated grassroots response in communities most at risk of COVID-19 presents the best strategy to slowing its transmission. He said the group wants to reframe the conversation around the pandemic in a way that motivates people and inspires change.

The group wants to mobilize health professionals to provide clinical direction, alongside other volunteers who are better versed in social media, marketing or creative pursuits like music or video. 

Henley said that in the early days of the pandemic, it was typical to use an enforcement and regulatory approach to encourage measures such as wearing masks and practising physical distancing. But that presents challenges over time as compliance declines.

"Arguing about change typically makes people not want to change," he said. "If you're continuously identifying what people aren't doing and then pointing that out, it actually erodes motivation and that lowered motivation can actually prevent people from making changes."

Instead, Henley thought community members and influencers could lead behaviour changes by setting examples.

Next steps

Now, the group is looking to meet with potential volunteers, beginning with a virtual meeting to harness what Henley calls the idle capacity in Edmonton's communities to encourage more people to follow public health recommendations in the pandemic.

The group will primarily be looking at solutions through social media, along with possibly postering or working with local businesses about how to change their COVID-19 messaging.

"We're not looking for people to be boots on the ground," Henley said. "We're looking to make this a virtual solution."