- Author: Marcel Horowitz
- Author: Anne Iaccopucci
- Author: Dorina Espinoza
UC 4-H 'Disease Detectives' across California become advocates for health and COVID-19 prevention after learning about epidemiology.
With the emergence of the coronavirus, 4-H in-person meetings had to be canceled, along with schools, sports and other youth development programs. Emerging research shows this gap of in-person socializing, disruption to routines, fear of the virus, and the loss of a sense of personal autonomy has led to an increase in social, emotional and mental health issues for teens. Over half of teens in a National 4-H Council/ Harris Poll stated that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, and 7 in 10 teens report struggling with their mental health.
How UC Delivers
The University of California 4-H Healthy Living Team witnessed that Californians were navigating confusing information about the best way to reduce the spread of the disease, with much misinformation being circulated. So the team decided to address these issues by adapting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention/4-H Junior Disease Detective: Operation Outbreak project for remote instruction.The project focused on concepts of epidemiology and included eight, interactive, virtual sessions covering public health professions, disease investigation, virus transmission, disease outbreaks, vaccines, immunity, prevention (such as how protective actions like handwashing and wearing masks reduce spread) and education. Eighty-nine youth indicated an interest in participating, with more than 45 4-H members from 15 counties across the state enrolling and completing the Virtual UC 4-H Epidemiology Project.
True to the 4-H experiential learning framework, and to address the research showing that teens are currently experiencing high levels of loneliness, the Project Leaders intentionally created a learning environment that included interactive, fun, challenging and social activities to foster a sense of connection. For example, youth learned about the benefits of wearing face masks with an activity where youth were challenged to blow a rolled up tissue from one to six feet away without a mask and then while wearing a mask. Their giggles did not mask the direct learning of how well a mask can contain one's breath.
After completing the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project, youth reported that they were more likely to wash their hands before food preparation (78.1%), after sneezing or coughing (56.2%), and after shopping in a public space (87.5%). The majority (84.4%) of youth also reported that they were more likely to wear a face mask when out in public, compared to before the project. When youth were asked what they learned from the project, one youth stated, “I learned why masks work, I learned how hand sanitizer works, and I learned how I can help my community.”
Youth reported not only improved health behaviors for themselves, but also reported being leaders in the health of their communities. Many of the young participants (62.5%) reported that they can definitely help control the spread of diseases and 71.9% could envision themselves getting involved in their local community to help slow the spread of disease. Following project participation, over half of all participants picture themselves choosing a career in medicine, public health, veterinary sciences or epidemiology. Participants of the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project have become advocates for health, with 75% reporting that they are discussing disease transmission and prevention with others.
Research shows that wearing masks and washing hands limits the spread of COVID-19 disease. In this way, these measured outcomes may contribute to improved health for all and the public value of promoting healthy people and communities.
The best part of the project was learning about how to protect myself and keep my family safe in these troubled times. - Youth participant