Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living Starts COVID-19 Education Campaign
ROME, GA—While the summer months brought with them a semblance of what life was like before COVID-19 invited itself into our routines unannounced, we now find ourselves staring down the barrel of breathing tubes once more. A new Delta variant of COVID has once again threatened to stifle school operations, stamp out Sunday dinners with family, and stricken our neighbors and friends with unimaginable illness or death.
An organization with roots in Rome, Ga. has expanded their mission of caring and connecting populations who are often underserved to a new level, all in the name of enhancing quality of life. The Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living (NWGACIL), led by Executive Director Maia Santamaria, has now set getting COVID vaccinations in their sights, and their aim is to stop the infection’s spread dead in its tracks.
Formed in 1962 by a group of students with disabilities at U.C. Berkeley, Centers for Independent Living (CIL) seek to provide resources and support for many who are challenged by a disability. By providing a way forward without the need for institutional care, people are freed from the chains of uncertainty and are empowered by the ability to decide their futures.
Now, it is more important than ever to warn not only people with disabilities about how COVID-19 can derail their goals but tell all members of our communities about how foregoing an accessible vaccine can literally be the last decision one makes with their own free will.
“Empowerment comes through informed education and making choices that lead to independence,” Santamaria explained, “and the ultimate independence is interdependence and accepting one’s responsibility towards community. Rather than basing choices on fear, politics, misinformation and conspiracy theories, our education campaign strives to inform people based on fact-based information coming from trusted community leaders.”
Citing microchips used for tracking, the politicization of science, a media that is now driven by ratings rather than rationality and a government built on bickering, Santamaria said that a sizable amount of our population has yet to find their way to a vaccination location. It is the goal of the NWGACIL to provide Northwest Georgia with data-driven information that will help them to eventually get vaccinated. Reliable sources include the CDC website, local healthcare providers, area health organizations and departments of public health. Those who require vaccination at home can sign up at HVS@dph.ga.gov or call 888-572-0112.
The decision should not just be made with self-interest in mind because according to local, state and national health organizations, the Delta variant is far more contagious than the Alpha variant that nearly brought the world to a halt. So, not getting a vaccine may not be the end for you, but it could be a death sentence for our compromised community. Part of that community could very well be someone close to home; it could be someone you love that loses their life because of a decision to place politics above basic human compassion.
“People are hesitant about getting the vaccine for a number of reasons,” Santamaria said. “Just the generalized fear and anxiety, coupled with the misinformation and distrust of government, has been so detrimental to our fight with COVID-19.
Precluding medical conditions can also be very scary for some, but a simple conversation with their doctors can let them know if the vaccine is safe. For most, it is not only safe, but recommended by medical professionals. By understanding the science driving the development of this vaccine it does not take long to see that the shot is both safe and effective.”
According to Dr. Gary Voccio, Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District, the game has now changed. During a recent talk he gave to community leaders, he voiced his concerns about the new Delta variant of COVID-19.
The data is not only pointing to a more transmissible infection, but the younger population is no longer resistant to the short- and long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. His advice was to take precautions like wearing masks and practicing social distancing until more people agree to get vaccinated. And because of the lack of vaccinations in our state, this hidden health assassin will continue to find new ways to infect us all, making it extremely difficult for healthcare professionals on the front line of the fight.
Santamaria said NWGACIL is focused on getting all community members vaccinated, but they are particularly concerned for minority groups who already have a deep history of not trusting information coming from political leaders. She said that the African American and Hispanic communities have been identified as the least vaccinated. It is for this reason, that they applied for and received a grant that will be used solely for COVID-19 education and outreach. She and her team have already been on the road, visiting families and organizations in Northwest Georgia to get the word out.
“We are working on ways to use the money to help people who may not have transportation to a vaccination site,” said Santamaria. “We are also finding ways to get reliable information to the public including bulk mailers, yard signs, community meetings and more. We feel that by connecting unvaccinated people to the facts, they will be able to make a more informed decision about their health and the health of others who share our social spaces. I know our Hispanic community is scared, for many reasons, about getting a vaccine. I want them to know that the process of getting a vaccine requires them to give nothing more than a name. This is not about politics; this is about keeping all of us safe and healthy.”
She added, “We all see family as an important part of our culture here in Northwest Georgia, especially our African American and Hispanic neighbors and friends. So, those family gatherings could be dangerous if not everyone has taken the personal responsibility to be vaccinated. And if for some reason you can not be vaccinated, please take the proper precautions to protect yourself and the people you love. We are all in this together, and this is not the time to let ideology lead us back to the grim outlook of 2020. We can do more, and we will do more. I believe in the resilience of our community and the care we have for each other. The Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living is here to help because we all believe in our mission. We are only a call away.”
For information about COVID-19 vaccination information, sites, resources and more please contact the NWGA Center for Independent Living at 706-314-0008. Or you can contact the center online using the following links: info@nwgacil www.nwgacil.org www.facebook.com/NWGACIL. You can also follow us on Twitter @NWGACIL or visit our office at 527 Broad Street, Suite 101 Rome, Ga. 30161.