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Researchers at Arizona State University's Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, along with colleagues at Arizona’s two other state universities and Mayo Clinic, are working to reduce misinformation and mistrust about the COVID-19 pandemic among people disproportionately affected by it.
The Arizona CEAL COVID Consortium (AC3) is conducting community-engaged research and outreach to increase education and awareness about the novel coronavirus and its devastating effects, said Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center Director Sabrina Oesterle, an associate professor in the School of Social Work.
The center is based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
CEAL or Community Engagement Alliance, was created by the National Institutes of Health to address misinformation about COVID-19 that often exists in communities of color. According to the NIH, people of color account for more than half of all reported COVID-19 cases in the United States.
The NIH announced in September that it was awarding $12 million “for outreach and engagement efforts in ethnic and racial minority communities” in 11 states, including Arizona.
With University of Arizona as the lead, research teams from ASU, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Mayo Clinic are working together to meet the needs of Arizona’s Latino, American Indian and African American communities.
One of the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center's main roles is to conduct statewide community focus groups to include members of these communities as they have experienced the most impact and devastation from COVID-19.
At ASU, the team has begun recruiting participants for 24 planned statewide focus groups among African American, American Indian and Hispanic/Latino populations, said Kathryn Hamm, center senior research analyst. Anyone interested in joining a focus group may write to FocusGroups@asu.edu.
Focus group leaders will ask participants several questions regarding COVID-19 personal experiences, their intent to be vaccinated, messaging they receive and clinical research involvement, Hamm said.
“We hope to gain a deeper understanding of community members’ experiences, concerns, attitudes, needs, wants, knowledge and misconceptions regarding the many aspects of the pandemic,” Oesterle said.
In addition, AC3 members created a task force of approximately 18 community leaders representing several Arizona health, community and faith-based organizations to assist with outreach, Hamm said. The task force has identified priorities to create trustworthy messages, increase vaccination participation, help prevent infection and increase access to testing.
Oesterle said a primary goal of the overall effort is establishing effective, culturally appropriate strategies to engage those living in the identified communities in research designed to advance the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
The consortium will engage a public relations firm to help implement the priorities and to help get reliable, trustworthy information about COVID-19 testing and vaccination to the identified communities.Teams will also work with the Arizona Department of Health Services to fully coordinate their efforts with ADHS communications plans.
CEAL is administered by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Like their counterparts in the other states, AC3 members will “promote and facilitate the inclusion and participation of these groups in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials to prevent and treat the disease,” the NIH said in a Sept. 16, 2020, statement.
Trusted community leaders will receive access to resources “to help raise awareness and educate about COVID-19, while also promoting the importance of inclusion in clinical trials,” according to an NIH web page containing information about CEAL.
AC3’s principal investigators of the project are:
“This community-engaged work across the entire state of Arizona, with over 30 community-based partners, is both timely and important to address the health disparities that have been accentuated by the pandemic,” Parthasarathy said.
The project involves AC3’s partnerships with ADHS’ Bureau of Chronic Disease and Health Promotions, AHCCCS (Arizona Medicaid), Coconino County Health and Human Services, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, Arizona Community Health Workers Association, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Hualapai Tribe, Native Americans for Community Action Inc., Northern Country Healthcare, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Navajo Nation, Valleywise Health, Banner Healthcare System and El Rio and Maricopa federally qualified health centers.