Case Study

Covid Action Cowichan

and the Mask the Valley campaign

Selling Covid Compliance

A good mind’s role in Covid Action Cowichan was much more than supportive. Working alongside Volunteer Cowichan, we were a prime mover in this project and its campaigns. A good mind outlined a vision for success against the pandemic and set out to recruit a management team to focus that vision.

The management team studied news articles and amplified the most compelling advice and information. We educated members regarding causes and best practices for prevention, training them to become effective advocates in the community for Covid safe behaviours.

Competitors were Ignorance, Misinformation, Time, and the Exponential Growth of the virus. Ultimately, diligent effort helped keep ignorance at bay and case counts amongst the lowest in the province and within the Island Health Region

The challenge we faced was that there was no consensus at that time as to what the best practices should be. As that discussion evolved, our hard and fast rule was that all information presented had to be backed by a peer-reviewed scientific study.

We wrote a series of planning documents to guide our progress and govern our discussions. These documents detailed strategies for mask production, deployment, communications, education, and community acceptance of masking.

The net result was that we:

  • Produced and distributed 15,000 volunteer-made fabric masks
  • Recruited 1,359 members in a community of 83,000
  • Generated educational information about mask-making, proper mask wearing, handling, and storage
  • Campaigned for mask acceptance
    • #MaskingIsAnActOfLove campaign memes
  • As such we have become the most valued local channel, and our region has been one of the safest in BC throughout the pandemic.

The Plan

Based on our critical analysis of the situation, on April 27, 2020, we declared an intention to make 83,000 fabric masks through our Facebook Group, one for every member of the community.

We spent the first month of the pandemic building teams while making surgical caps and developing a distribution network that would be used in the mask-making process, as well as building supply chains to source fabric which at that time was difficult to buy. Our model was a textiles startup.

We operated on the view that masks had shown value in population level contexts. There was ample empirical evidence that masks were clearly beneficial. We needed to do and say something that would capture the hearts and imaginations of our community and which might inspire other communities. It was important to get mask wearing established early in the community, considering the exponential rate of growth of Covid19 once established. 

A good mind authored a multi-page strategy document “The Mask Manifesto” that outlined a variety of strategies for making and equally important, popularizing masks and mask-wearing. 

It was clear that the fractured and often contradictory information being presented was alienating and frustrating to those who wanted to know best practices in order to stay safe. Our team knew it was critical to present strong, unambiguous recommendations about purpose, construction, materials, and handling to ease the initial discomfort of the idea of masks. 

We devised a communications strategy of continuous, relentless, high-quality information deployment. The Covid Action Cowichan management team had private discussions every day about the newest articles and research. 

We debated the best articles to share, reaching out to experts as necessary to vet and shape the information we presented in the group.

Execution

A good mind designed clear guidelines and messaging to make sure that the masks made locally were of the highest possible standard. We realized many masks would be made by new stitchers who were developing their skills as well as by stitching experts.  This was complicated by the inability to provide any hands-on teaching. 

We knew that it was critical that the entire community be reached and that all had equal access to masks. Cowichan Valley is home to one of the largest and more impoverished First Nations in British Columbia. Poverty is widespread in the region in all parts of the community, and racism is as well. 

We invited a respected elder to our leadership team, which was considered a priority and actively recruited elected leaders in Cowichan Tribes to the group, giving them unrestricted posting privileges. We are proud to say that our membership reflects a greater than statistical representation from Cowichan Tribes and the other local First Nations. This has been critical to the penetration of the local market (as it were) with the message of the value of masking, ventilation, and distancing, and protecting generations of Knowledge Keepers.

A good mind provided the strategy, branding, messaging, information graphics, memes, posters, publicity, and defined information verification methods for articles to be posted. We recruited a leadership team that built processes and supply chains that any startup would be proud of. 

Our influential meme campaign #MaskingIsAnActOfLove had 136 iterations featuring nearly 200 Cowichan Valley residents. These included everyone from elected politicians to toddlers. Individual memes were viewed by as many 17,000 people.

Our authority has been so complete that in 13 months we have only had to delete a handful of comments for trolling. The first was in November 2020.

Results

Covid Action Cowichan’s campaigns met the demand and sold the local population on the importance of masking. Our Mask The Valley volunteers made 15,000 masks and distributed them into the community. We are confident that our membership at large has made the balance of 83,000 and then some.

We are encouraged by the weakness of deniers in local social media and the alacrity with which our training is shown in opposition to them. There have been only two small anti-masking demonstrations locally, each of which had to recruit heavily from outside of the community. Our #MaskingIsAnActOfLove poster has more people on it than either event.

We measure our effectiveness by the low number of local cases. Island Health has the best record in BC and we are confident that the case count in Cowichan Valley is the lowest in the set. While the government of BC does not release data with such granular detail, our membership is large enough to give a sense of how many of the Island Health cases are here in Cowichan. We are confident that our efforts have made a significant contribution to the excellent local results.

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