For the next week a giant, flatbed truck with loud speakers and bright banners is driving around Hyattsville, Maryland, spreading the state’s message about COVID-19.
In English and in Spanish, the messages say things like: “Stay about 6 feet away from others if possible, even when wearing a mask,” and “receiving treatment or testing for COVID will not put your immigration status at risk. Get tested.”
You’ll hear them walking down the street, and likely, even from inside your house. And that’s the point.
“This is really intimate because it gets into the streets,” said Dr. Mark Martin, the deputy director for office of minority health and health disparities in Maryland.
“Interventions like these where you actually are traveling down residential streets and other streets and blasting the message and giving out free masks and COVID-19 information sheets … all of this is to put our intention on the vaccination effort for the state of Maryland.”
It’s no accident the truck is coming here either.
“Prince George’s County is the county with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state,” state delegate Joselyn Pena-Melnyk said. “The ZIP code with the highest number of COVID-19 cases is 20783 where we are. It is the Latino immigrant community.”
It’s as much about awareness as it is encouragement to take the steps to get vaccinated. Pena-Melnyk said it’s clear there is high demand for the vaccine, but not always a clear understanding of what someone has to do to get one.
“I keep saying that we have to meet people where they are in their community and send a message in the community in the language and be culturally competent,” said Brigadier General Janeen Birkhead of the Maryland National Guard.
She’s also the chair of the Maryland equity task force.
“This is one of the tools in our tool kit. We’ll continue to innovate and get the message out,” Birkhead said.
Riding on the truck will be volunteers from Casa de Maryland and the NAACP, offering information about testing and vaccination efforts as well as free masks as the truck makes stops around the neighborhoods here.
State leaders say a previous sound truck that drove around one Baltimore neighborhood paid off, leading them to replicate those efforts in Hyattsville.