Published: March 20, 2020 By

As Americans brace for the full effects of the coronavirus, one group seems to be missing the message: college-aged students.

Though many people are heeding health officials' guidance to practice social distancing, footage of young adults at beachside parties and packed concert venues across the country have flooded social media.

“If I get corona, I get corona,” says one student in a news story on spring breakers in Florida. “I’m not going to let that stop me from partying.”

Locally, recent stories have circulated about large groups of CU students attending St. Patrick's Day parties in Boulder’s “The Hill” neighborhood.

In response, students in CU Boulder’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) are taking action with the launch of an Instagram campaign on their account, @boulderprssa

Through pictures and personal stories, students are highlighting loved ones who may be most at risk should they contract the virus. They hope the posts will convince fellow students to help #FlattenTheCurve. 

“We all know someone that is vulnerable to getting COVID-19, and uniting as students to spread this message will make our collective voice so much greater,” says Anna Ritz, president of CU’s PRSSA chapter. “We all have a part to play in combating the spread of this disease."

As the group discussed ways to encourage their peers to practice social distancing, they realized they had to find a way to make the issue personal, says Dawn Doty, CU’s PRSSA advisor and an instructor in CMCI’s Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design.

“Once the students started thinking about the people that they cared about in their lives––and needing to protect them––they sort of just really rallied around this idea, like, ‘Yeah, let's start a student-led campaign to flatten the curve,’” Doty says. “So this is just a way to make it resonate with them.” 

The hashtag #FlattenTheCurve began circulating in conjunction with a graph, originally attributed to the Center for Disease Control, which demonstrates how social distancing can slow the spread of the virus to avoid a spike in cases that would overwhelm hospital resources. 

In one of the first posts from the campaign, Ritz shared a picture of herself with her elderly grandfather. 

“I may not show symptoms or get sick,” she wrote, “but that doesn't mean he won't get sick.”

In another post, the chapter’s vice president, MacKenzie Murphy, highlighted her friend’s younger sister, Lily––an 18-year-old CU Boulder student who is immunocompromised.  

“[The virus] also affects those with underlying health conditions that could be even younger than ourselves,” Murphy wrote.

Saving vulnerable populations is the campaign's focus, though new evidence suggests younger age groups aren’t immune from a serious outcome.

A recent report issued by the CDC indicates that nearly 40% of the individuals known to be hospitalized by the virus in the U.S. are between the ages of 20 and 54––and almost half of the 121 individuals known to be admitted into the ICU are under the age of 64. 

Doty says the chapter is in preliminary talks with the national organization to expand the campaign. Already, several instructors at CU Boulder and within CMCI have committed to giving their students extra credit if they participate, she says. 

“Students are active Instagram users,” she says. “So it just makes sense for this kind of campaign to live there because that's where they're going to see that content the fastest.”