Students Make An Impact: Building a South LA COVID-19 Support Network

“I learned about the value of connecting people and organizations with much-needed resources during times of crisis,” reported one student studying towards a master’s degree in preventive medicine and interning with a new south LA project. As the COVID 19 pandemic closed businesses and locked people in their homes by late March of 2020, leaders in south Los Angeles worried that their community would bear the brunt of the impact without sufficient resources to meet resident needs.  In response, thirty community service organizations formed CRSSLA (Coronavirus Community Response System for South Los Angeles) to advocate, network, and fill in the gaps.  They wanted to save lives, keep people safe, and help their neighbors.  Soon after these community members initially met, it became clearer that the COVID 19 pandemic had reached south LA.  Data indicated rates of infection spiking up in April and May (see a study at this link).  From the beginning, USC was a key partner.  The university extended a food and essential supplies distribution operation to the area around the university park campus in south LA.  Realizing that more help was needed to build an infrastructure for the envisioned community response network, a team of 12 Public Health Interns was assembled by Brenda Wiewel, DSW, Director of the USC Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness.  “I was concerned about the south LA community.  They are so vulnerable both from the risk of disease and the economic fallout that can generate increased homelessness.  Our students wanted to help but needed to work remotely and became a partner in this effort,” reported Dr. Wiewel. So far, the intern team has made a total of 370 calls and sent 240 emails to businesses, churches, and service agencies during April and May.  They checked in on status and provided resource info for financial, food/shelter, and advocacy needs. They became a voice of caring, which was appreciated and helped connect people together.  The interns are learning about community organizations, available resources, and the combined health and social/economic challenges that residents face in this area.  Through the rest of the summer, they will be collecting data for surveys about food resources and health education.  The info they collect can support future grant applications as well as public health campaigns combining education, research, and effective evidence-based interventions. This project is a way to bring critical resources through partnerships to communities surrounding USC, designed to improve health and quality of life.  As Los Angeles County Health Director, Barbara Ferrer, M.D., and community activists began to talk of need for a culturally informed approach with more testing and access to support services, a public discussion via webinar was planned for this Saturday, June 20  with Dr. Barbara Ferrer, community representatives, and USC experts. It will explore ways to enhance partnerships for health. Visit www.crssla.org to learn more about CRSSLA and register for this event.