NIH Community Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities

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CEAL Projects

In order to effectively address health disparities surrounding COVID-19 in Mississippi and engage priority populations from across the state, Project Teams are conducting five research initiatives that engage community partners in COVID-19 awareness and education, especially among African American, Latinx, and American Indian communities.

Each project builds upon one another to:  

  1. Assess community perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors regarding COVID-19 prevention and treatment 
  2. Develop culturally-specific, community-vetted informational materials about COVID-19 health behaviors and participation in clinical trials  
  3. Disseminate messaging materials regarding COVID-19 protective behaviors and clinical trials education and recruitment using existing Community Health Worker (CHW) networks and expanding dissemination channels through trusted community partners, Young Ambassadors, and grassroots Communication Leaders.  

Detailed descriptions of the five CEAL projects can be found below.  

Project 1:  

Victor Sutton PhDVictor Sutton, PhD 
Director, Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity, MSDH

Project 1, led by the Director of the Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity at the Mississippi State Department of Health, will conduct the CEAL Core Survey with the general population while focusing on CEAL priority populations. This survey will assess knowledge, perceptions, and behaviors regarding COVID-19 prevention and the cultural differences in the impact of COVID-19, community and individual level needs, and how best to reach these populations. 

Project 2: Determine culturally-specific barriers to COVID-19 vaccination uptake for Mississippians  

Victor Sutton, PhD 
Director, Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity, MSDH  

Through a statewide survey, Project 2 seeks to (1) determine respondents’ willingness to accept a COVID-19 vaccine and participate in clinical trials, and (2) explore the reasons for those unwilling or unsure of accepting a vaccine or participating in clinical trials. This project builds on efforts by MSDH’s Office of Preventive Health and Health Equity to conduct community level needs assessments that inform the development and delivery of culturally appropriate information to Mississippi communities.  

Project 3: Identify COVID-19 related perceptions, knowledge, and behaviors among young African American adults in Mississippi – The Young Adults against COVID-19 (YAACOV) Study 

Wendy White, PhDWendy White, PhD  
Director, Jackson Heart Study Undergraduate Training and Education Center, Tougaloo College  

Traci Hayes, PhD  
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health, USM  

Project 3 seeks to understand Mississippi’s African American young adults’ (ages 18-29) COVID-19 related knowledge and behaviors to prevent its spread and strategies for coping during the pandemic. The study has three primary aims: (1) to explore the perceptions, knowledge, and community-engaged coping strategies that influence adherence to recommended prevention and mitigation behaviors between college-enrolled and non-college-enrolled young adults; (2) to identify factors that influence the uptake of COVID-19 information and education between college-enrolled and non-college-enrolled young adults; and (3) to assess the intent to sustain long-term prevention and mitigation strategies between college-enrolled and non-college-enrolled young adults.  

The study utilizes a mixed-methods approach, including an online survey and focus groups to determine participants’ understanding of COVID-19 and identify Young Ambassadors who will aid in education and dissemination. The findings will identify critical factors influencing culturally- and age-appropriate messaging campaigns on mitigation behaviors.  

Dr. Hayes is an assistant professor of public health at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research is focused on integrative health and health communications. She works with minority populations to integrate their health priorities into theory-driven, community-based behavior change interventions and programs. She has published work on implementing and evaluating theory-based interventions to promote physical activity, yoga, stress, and weight management. Additionally, Dr. Hayes is an award-winning communications practitioner who has directed health marketing and outreach programs for academia, government, and non-profits. During her tenure as the Director of Communications and Marketing Outreach of the national Research Centers in Minority Institutions Translational Research Network (RTRN), funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, she led initiatives to foster research collaborations between basic, clinical and behavioral scientists. She fostered engagement efforts between the community members and the consortium researchers and worked to increase awareness of minority health disparities.   

Dr. White is the Principal Investigator and Director of the Jackson Heart Study (JHS) Undergraduate Training and Education Center at Tougaloo College.

Project 4: Develop community, public health, and academic partnerships to create messaging and risk communication to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 

Rodney Washington, PhDRodney Washington, EdD 
Associate Professor, Department of Population Health Science, UMMC  

This project leverages community/public health/academic partnerships and tools to implement and evaluate a comprehensive, community-driven COVID-19 risk messaging model in underserved, rural areas. Building upon established partnerships with community-based organizations that serve rural, high poverty communities, this project conducts listening sessions and focus groups with African American adults living in 5 rural communities. Local Communication Leaders (CLs) are nominated and recruited from listening sessions, and trained to assess, disseminate, and solicit feedback regarding COVID-19 health behavior and clinical trials messaging to ascertain areas of medical mistrust and miscommunication. In consultation with community-based organizations and members of the Mississippi CEAL Team, COVID-19 messaging is disseminated to CLs for individual and community review and feedback. The primary aim of this research is to develop culturally-appropriate, community-developed COVID-19 messaging materials for priority populations living in rural, high poverty areas of Mississippi. The secondary aim is to (1) raise awareness for community members on COVID-19 related health behaviors and clinical trials, (2) develop community-based infrastructure for deployment of health behavior and clinical trials messaging, and (3) engage and train local Communication Leaders in marginalized communities.

Dr. Washington has a background in criminology and justice services, mental health counseling, and early childhood education. His research interests include population-specific program evaluation methods, HIV testing among African American men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM), and barriers to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) adherence and use among sexual minority populations. Dr. Washington is a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader and a Fellow with the Obesity Health Disparities PRIDE program. Dr. Washington is currently serving as the lead on several projects focused on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities of color in Mississippi.  

Project 5: Engage Community Health Advisors (CHAs) to address issues of COVID-19 in vulnerable Mississippi communities  

Susan Mayfield Johnson, PhDSusan Mayfield Johnson, PhD 
Associate Professor, Department of Public Health, USM 

Project 5 involves partnerships with community-based organizations with experienced and paid Community Health Workers (CHWs) to develop, implement, and evaluate volunteer natural helper Community Health Advisors (CHAs) COVID-19 Advisory Groups (CHA-CAG) in African American and Hispanic communities at significant risk for COVID-19. Given their unique community connections and knowledge, CHWs are poised to address COVID-19 health disparities and support resource coordination, contact tracing, and nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). In addition, volunteer Community Health Advisors (CHAs) are able to leverage their own social networks and person-centered webs of relationships to connect individuals to other persons or groups for advice and assistance.  

Dr. Mayfield-Johnson is an associate professor in the School of Health Professions at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is a mentored investigator for the Mississippi Center for Clinical and Translational Research (MCCTR). Her research has focused on community health workers, racially diverse and underserved populations, health disparities, and qualitative research designs. She has a strong commitment to community engagement and practice in participatory action research for improving community health.  Nationally, she is advisory board member for the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW), an executive section council member with the Community Health Worker (CHW) Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and a Master Trainer for the Women’s Health Leadership Institute, Office of Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.   She also serves on the Southeastern Health Equity Council, as a part of the Regional Health Equity Councils with the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities for the Office of Minority Health.