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Guest column: Healthiest Ames redirects energy during COVID-19 pandemic

Stephanie Downs and Cheryl Langston
Guest contributers

As co-leaders of Healthiest Ames, a non-profit, volunteer group with the goal of maximizing the health of Ames residents, our organization has grappled with how to promote our objectives throughout this complicated and unusual year.

Our mission for community-wide health focuses on four main areas: encouraging physical activity, promoting healthy food choices, improving awareness of an individual's health conditions, and improving community connectedness.

However, the arrival of COVID-19 has created challenges no one could have anticipated. Like many others, we regrouped, assessed the greatest needs, and redirected our energy to those areas we could have the biggest impact.

With community support, Healthiest Ames was recently able to present every student attending Ames Community School District with a package of reusable cloth face coverings, which are required for students on campus. This amazing effort was led by Healthiest Ames member Gail Johnston.

Each mask bundle contained one purchased mask paired with others handmade by community volunteers. Other volunteers contributed by purchasing material and supplies, cutting out patterns, pre-washing material, sorting completed masks, or donating funds. It was an amazing community effort.

As an organization focused on community health, Healthiest Ames supports efforts to encourage face coverings as one way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Healthiest Ames board includes physicians, healthcare administrators, academics, and public health educators, and we applaud the Ames City Council's approval of a face covering ordinance.

We endorse this decision because it promotes optimal citizen health. Face coverings have been proven effective in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses, and they are recommended by medical, public health, and scientific professionals.

Passing an ordinance mandating face coverings puts Ames in alignment with best practices in other cities, states, and countries, and we are grateful to our elected officials for their thoughtful, measured approach to this crisis.

In fact, face coverings are just one of many tools citizens can implement to slow the spread of COVID-19. Another way Healthiest Ames promotes community health is by supporting other organizations that are working toward similar goals.

Consequently, Healthiest Ames supports the Cyclones Care public education campaign. Cyclones Care focuses on the four pillars of healthy behavior and serves as a community-wide reminder of expected behavior not just on Iowa State University campus, but throughout the greater Ames area.

Cyclones Care focuses on four areas: wear a face covering, distance from others by 6 feet or greater, wash your hands often, and stay home if you are ill. The Cyclones Care message, developed initially for the ISU community, has been embraced by the City of Ames, Story County, Mary Greeley Medical Center, Ames Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Ames Community School District, Heartland Senior Services, and others.

Cyclones Care messaging is evident in posters and signage all over Ames, on websites and social media posts, on CyRide bus boards, and a billboard on Duff Avenue.

We encourage you to look for and follow the Cyclones Care messages to keep healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic is a health care crisis is like nothing we have experienced before.

These are difficult times, and misinformation is everywhere. As an organization that is focused on improving the overall health of our community, Healthiest Ames continues to look for ways to make a positive impact on the community by supporting messaging that is recommended by trusted medical and scientific sources.

We believe Ames is a fantastic community filled with generous, caring, involved, and concerned citizens, and together we will get through this crisis.

One final note, because so many people are staying at home, Healthiest Ames continues to promote home-based exercise, particularly for older adults. This program, Go4Life, is a good choice from the National Institute on Aging: https://order.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/workout-to-go.pdf.

Stephanie Downs, M.S., is the WellBeing Coordinator with Iowa State University Human Resources. She has worked in public health and education for more than 20 years. She is a co-chair of Healthiest Ames.

Cheryl Langston, retired from Iowa State University as the Director of Customer Services in Information Technology Services. She is a co-chair of Healthiest Ames