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The University of Colorado Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America has launched a campaign to help promote social distancing. The campaign features family and friends of the organization’s eight board members, loved ones who are at-risk and the reason they are keeping their social distance. (University of Colorado Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America / Courtesy photos)
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Editors note: A previous version of this article misstated what government agency Dr. Anthony Fauci works with. It has been updated to reflect this.

The University of Colorado Boulder chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America started an online campaign this week in order to drive home the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

The effort so far includes a daily series of Instagram posts featuring family members and friends of CU PRSSA board members who would be considered at risk — meaning they’re immunocompromised or older than 60 years of age and more susceptible to becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

“So right now, we’re starting with testimonies from our board members kind of explaining, you know, ‘if not for me than for this person in my life,’” said Chapter President Anna Ritz. “So for me, it’s my grandpa. For some of our other board members it’s a best friend or a sibling that’s immunocompromised.”

She added that the posts help explain that, while it’s hard to commit to social distancing — which means limiting how much one leaves the house while staying at least six feet away from others when it’s necessary — the practice could save the lives of loved ones.

In addition, social distancing, as many experts and government officials have explained, can help lighten the load on America’s hospitals. Instead of the virus spreading rapidly and overloading the country’s health system, the practice can help spread out its effects, known widely as “flattening the curve.”

In the organization’s first post in the campaign, Chapter Vice President MacKenzie Murphy spoke about why a good family friend of hers has caused her to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

“I am practicing social distancing because not only does the coronavirus impact the elderly, it also affects those with underlying health conditions that could be even younger than ourselves,” Murphy wrote in a post on CU Boulder PRSSA’s Instagram page. “Like my best friend’s younger sister Lily, who is 18 and a student here at CU Boulder. By practicing social distancing I am giving her a fair shot at the future she deserves.”

Jenna Tocatlian, a board member at the organization who worked on the project and has been putting up the daily posts, said that she and her colleagues wanted to make sure the campaign wasn’t negative, and found a constructive way to make this outbreak real to young people and CU Boulder students.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to learn in a safe environment, but also I think it’s our duty as Buffs to really help rally the community around this important cause, because I just think that some people — including myself at times — are completely unaware of the severity of what’s going on,” Tocatlian said.

“And we saw it last weekend when people were celebrating St. Patty’s Day despite the university shutting down,” she added, referring to recent parties in Boulder’s the Hill neighborhood.

Seeing a genuine message coming from peers as opposed to school administration or the news, she said, could help.

“Hopefully that will resonate with them in a way that wakes them up and they think, ‘Oh, this actually is really important for us to all band together and do,’” Tocatlian said.

Ritz said that in addition to Instagram posts, her chapter of PRSSA has been doing outreach through email. The organization chose Instagram as the primary medium for the campaign, Tocatlian said, because of any platform CU PRSSA uses, it has the widest reach.

And Dawn Doty, the faculty advisor for CU’s PRSSA chapter, said during a pandemic situation like this, effective communication and public relations can play an essential role. She added that right now, the classes she’s teaching are focused on showing students how they can help “flatten the curve.”

“Effective communication and public relations help organizations provide clear, factual information so stakeholders take responsible actions,” Doty said. “The communicator we can all look to right now that is an outstanding example of this is Dr. (Anthony) Fauci with the (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).”

CU Boulder students who want to share stories of why they’re practicing social distancing, along with a photo of them with an at-risk loved one, can email prssa@colorado.edu. Those who are practicing social distancing to be a good “global citizen,” Tocatlian said, can use any number of pictures.

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