Wear a mask.
Stay at home as much as possible. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. These days, we hear this all the time.
But the message just isn’t sinking in with certain folks.
I am reminded every time I go out. And there are always reminders on social media — that photo of men hanging out at 26th and Master Streets watching a basketball game. That picture of a large crowd outside Bob’s House of Crabs. Party invites on Instagram.
So I give a thumbs-up to City Council for coming up with the unconventional idea of hiring social media influencers such as Saudia Shuler of Country Cookin', Wallace “Wallo” Peebles, and Darryl Shuler along with professional athletes including Sixers legend Julius Erving, to help spread messages about staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s one thing to turn on the radio and hear Councilmembers Cindy Bass or Cherelle Parker reminding you to stay at home to avoid contracting COVID-19. But it’s a whole other thing if the message comes from Saudia Shuler, who became a viral sensation after hiring a live camel for her son’s epic prom send-off in 2017.
“Council people, we do have influence, but there are certain categories of people we don’t necessarily have that influence with," Council President Darrell L. Clarke told me on Wednesday. “From my understanding, they’ve got over 300,000 views on the various platforms.”
Peebles, known as @Wallo267 on Instagram, has almost 650,000 followers. A self-described “disrupter and connector,” he declined to say how much he had been paid. But whatever the amount, it’s worth it, because his followers listen to him. Plus, he’s an outstanding public speaker. In one post, he does a really good job explaining how even if young people feel invincible, they need to be concerned about possibly transmitting the coronavirus to their loved ones.
“I need you not to be selfish,” he urges. “I need you to think about your grandparents. I need you to think about your mother.…”
Antiviolence activist Darryl Shuler, who is Saudia’s uncle, was another good pick, not just because of his following but because he recently recovered from the coronavirus.
“When Darrell L. Clarke asked me to be a part of it, I told him, ‘Absolutely,’” he told me. “For whatever reason, our younger generation is not listening and taking it serious.
“If you are from the community, they can relate to you more," added Shuler, who organized an antiviolence town hall meeting at the Met last summer that about 1,000 people attended. “So you might have a better chance of them listening to you.”
Council allotted $10,000 to fund the social media campaign, which the influencers will share. It’s part of a larger #stopthespread advertising effort worth roughly $130,000.
Earlier this month, Council approved Mayor Jim Kenney’s request for $85 million to respond to the coronavirus crisis after adding a provision that gave members $400,000 to spend at their discretion.
In addition, each Council member made public service announcements that are airing on three different radio outlets.
A total of 17 billboards are up at key locations around the city, which is smart considering how a lot of motorists are still coming and going despite the stay-at-home order.
Sixers Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle, and Eagles safety Rodney McLeod, are also onboard, as is Aaron McKie, Temple’s basketball coach. The athletes are doing this pro bono.
Oh, and remember that photo from outside Bob’s House of Crabs that showed customers gathering without observing social distancing protocols?
Council has come up with posters designed for restaurants to encourage customers to stand six feet apart when they go to pick up food.
As the weather warms up, it’s going to be difficult to get people of all ages to stay inside.
The Parkway will be packed. The Art Museum steps, too. We will need reminders to stay home as much as possible. And to wear masks even when it’s hot.
The #stopthespread campaign will help.