Practice #SafeSix

The ACES Peer Health Educators want you to practice #SafeSix! Wait… Did you read that right?

Yes! You did. Practice #SafeSix is a campaign out of the Center for Student Wellness to educate students on six steps they can take to keep themselves and our larger campus community safe and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tune in to @universityofutah’s Instagram on Monday, Oct. 19 to see a takeover from the ACES Peer Health Educators. They will also be hosting a Facebook live interview event on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m.

Today, we hear from three ACES peer health educators—Elnaz Tahmassebi, Cloe Butler and Ethan Ramos—about their perspectives on COVID-19 safety precautions. Below, they take us through each of the #SafeSix steps to discuss in depth. Read on to hear directly from them about the importance of following these steps, their tips for practicing #SafeSix, and words of encouragement as we head into the last half of fall semester.

Why is it important to practice #safesix?

Cloe Butler: I think the most important part of practicing #safesix is to remember WHY we are doing this: not only to protect ourselves but to think of others who may be high risk. You never know someone’s story; the cashier in the grocery store may be living with HIV/AIDS, your roommate’s mom with cancer, and other students on campus with asthma. Remembering that you never know (other’s circumstance(s)) is something that speaks to me.

Elnaz Tahmassebi: Practicing #safesix isn’t just to protect you from COVID-19, it’s a way to protect others as well. Over the summer Cloe and I did an internship on COVID-19 and found that practicing #safesix and wearing face masks are the best ways aside from quarantining to protect yourself from the virus. If you have the virus and aren’t aware of it, whether you are asymptomatic or just haven’t shown symptoms yet, staying at least six feet apart and wearing a face mask could prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other people. There is no single recovery period for COVID-19. Some people recover, but a lot of people don’t, and if they survive, they could be dealing with long term health effects. Practicing #safesix means having courtesy for others and the people in their lives.

Addressing Tip 1: What are your boundaries regarding physical distancing? How do you communicate your boundaries when it comes to physical distancing?

Butler: My boundaries vary based on who I am surrounded by. I work with young kids, and my boundaries with them are intense: masks on, sanitizing, maintaining as much distance as possible. With my roommates, friends, and boyfriend, my boundaries are more about what precautions they are practicing. I expect my close friends to maintain small circles, wear their masks, and refrain from seeing people outside of our already established friend groups. Communicating these boundaries is all about telling others why you have these boundaries. Although I myself am not high risk, I remind my friends that some of the people I see are!

Ethan Ramos: This is really difficult for me when working in retail. A lot of customers will instinctively want to come close to me to ask a question or show me something. I want to always maintain at least 6 feet, so I step back and let people know that I feel more comfortable keeping at distance. Using “I” statements are important! I try to communicate with conversations involving social distancing using myself as the subject.

How do you suggest having these conversations regarding physical distancing with roommates?

Ramos: I feel lucky because my roommate is someone I’m very close to and can have frank conversations with him, because we are so close. For example, if he went to a party or festival or something that involves lots of people. I might tell him that I want to be mindful of not sharing a space in the apartment with him for the next couple weeks, like watch tv from the same couch or cook together in the kitchen. For those who don’t live with someone they know super well, maybe living in the dorms on campus, you could open that dialogue by saying something like “I want to make sure I’m being as safe as I can with COVID, could you just let me know if you are going out to a party so we can physical distance when you get back?”

Tahmassebi: I think the important thing is not making the tone of the conversation accusatory. People tend to get defensive and unwilling to listen when they feel like they are being blamed. However, at the same time you are sharing a space with someone else and they need to respect that. Sharing your boundaries with your roommate and making sure they understand how their actions could violate them is super important. It’s best to be honest about why you want to have this conversation with them, and maybe suggest alternatives for them that won’t clash with your boundaries!

We recognize that college parties and in-person gatherings are still happening. As a peer health educator, how do you address this?

Ramos: Parties scare me. Especially during a fall semester where everyone has had summer of going back home, but now they are back on campus with all their friends and everyone wants to see everyone. This is very dangerous given the nature of a global pandemic. Yes, these things are happening, and as a peer health educator we want to come up with creative alternatives to social interaction. For example, a couple of ACES got on zoom and played cards against humanity the other night. But push will come to shove which we’ve seen. People will have parties. I think the best way to address this is by changing the culture. The Greek system is where we see these parties taking place. I know each fraternity on campus has a person in charge of “Risk Management.” Traditionally, this involves things like harm reduction when it comes to drinking and drug usage. These organizations could start taking COVID-19 guidelines into consideration, which will help the partying culture and give them the opportunity to start holding themselves accountable when not social distancing and partying.

Butler: As mentioned earlier, Elnaz and I participated in an internship this summer with the CSW where we explored COVID and campus culture. One of the ideas we worked with was partying (which obviously happens on college campuses and is continuing to occur even now!) As Ethan stated, there are some really fun alternatives to partying that can still fulfill that social desire many of us have in a safe manner. If you live with roommates, you can absolutely have a little party that doesn’t add any additional risk- and pong with friends is much more fun anyways;) Call up your friends outside your circle on Zoom, and make a playlist that you can both dance to on either end! Get creative with it, and keep in mind that the more we party now on Zoom, the more we can party in-person when COVID is gone. As peer health educators, the best thing we can do is set an example and continue to remind others why we are being safe.

Addressing Tip 2: If you saw someone on campus who wasn’t wearing a face covering properly, would you say something? How do you suggest addressing this?

Ramos: Personally, I wouldn’t. I’m not on campus often and when I am, I’m hustling to my next class. What I would do is stare at them intently and make them feel uncomfortable for not wearing a mask. This is also an issue of the culture surrounding wearing masks. This is best addressed by leading by example and having a mask wearing majority. If one student sees a bunch of students wearing masks they would be inclined to also wear a mask. So, as a peer health educator, I would start with the people around me and that I feel comfortable with telling them to wear a mask. Then, they can do the same and we can start changing the culture.

Butler: This is a really tricky subject to tackle. I think the best method is kindly asking someone to put their mask on or asking them if they need one. You can even gesture to your own mask, pulling it up above your nose to catch their attention. I know it can be so frustrating to see someone without a mask, but the last thing you want to do is attack this person, which in my experience, is not a very productive conversation starter.

Tahmassebi: I’ve noticed people not wearing masks on campus before but usually they are outside and not around anyone else. Luckily, I haven’t noticed people not wearing masks inside buildings. I think Cloe’s method of asking if they need a face mask is a great way to go about asking someone to wear a mask. It’s a polite way to go about it without being too confrontational. And if they have a mask but purposefully aren’t wearing it, it would be a great time to talk about your boundaries and why you would appreciate them putting on a mask.

What does the act of wearing a face covering symbolize to you?

Ramos: I wear a mask to protect others indirectly and from myself. Asymptomatic carriers exist so maybe I have it but don’t know so I don’t want to spread it to anyone. To be safe, I wear a mask. I wear a mask to protect those who are at higher risk. It protects myself from possibly getting it and spreading it to my family members I visit without wearing a mask.

Butler: Wearing a mask means a lot of different things; respect, knowledge, understanding. It signifies that you care about others’ safety, and what’s going on in the world.

Addressing Tip 4: It is now more important than ever to practice good hygiene. What other tips do you have in regard to hygiene? 

Butler: My skin has never been better than during COVID-19, and I think this is just a result of the attention I’ve been giving to hygiene! Try spraying your mask with rose water or tea tree oil to keep it fresh and prevent breakouts.

Tahmassebi: Practicing good hygiene habits makes you less likely to contract and spread covid! Some other great ways to practice good hygiene include carrying hand sanitizer with you, washing your reusable face masks after you wear them, and maybe carrying extra face masks with you! Also, if you want to avoid mask-ne, try also spraying salicylic acid on your mask before wearing it!

Do you have advice to share to get through these trying times?

Ramos: Show empathy for your peers, friends, coworkers, teachers, and family members. Kindness is key, use it whenever you can during this trying time.

Butler: Remember that as a student, there are so many tools at your disposal. Now more than ever, utilize them! The Counseling Center, the Women’s Resource Center, and the Center for Student Wellness all provide services that can be helpful during this hard time. Also, remember that it’s a dang global pandemic! It’s ok to watch TV in bed all day, or forget to workout for a month, or eat pizza every day of the week. Taking care of your mental health is so important right now, and self-care looks different for everyone.

Tahmassebi: Right now, so many people have to juggle taking classes almost entirely online with work and a pandemic. It’s important to be kind to yourself and realize that you are doing the best you can during a very uncertain time. Rely on your loved ones for social support and see a therapist frequently to help you get through this time. There are so many resources on campus to help you out with classes and your health, both mental and physical, and there is no shame in using them! It’s a hard time but you will get through it.

Now it’s your turn to practice #SafeSix

Our ACES peer health educators are not only here to talk the talk, they’re also putting these safety steps into action daily. And they’re encouraging you to do the same. Are you prioritizing these steps in your life? How so? Log onto social media and let the Center for Student Wellness know at @uofuwellness.

Stay safe, Utah!

About ACES Peer Health Education Program

The Center for Student Wellness’ ACES Peer Health Education Scholars Program is made up of 18 peer health educators. The program aims to educate and empower our student body around wellness topics like violence prevention, sexual wellness, harm reduction and now—COVID-19 safety precautions.

ACES peer health educators are essential in disseminating health and wellness information to the U campus community. Three teams—sexual wellness, harm reduction and violence prevention—collaborate to develop, implement and evaluate health education programming for their peers. This is meant to create meaningful ways for our students to think about and engage in their health and wellness.

Pictured above from left to right

Cloe Butler (she/her/hers) is a junior studying health, society and policy and gender studies. Butler serves on the ACES sexual wellness team. She works as a research assistant in gender studies.

Ethan Ramos (he/him/his) is a junior studying computer science with a minor in mathematics. Ramos is part of the ACES violence prevention team. He is also a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

Elnaz Tahmassebi (she/her/hers) is a junior studying international studies. Tahmassebi is a part of the ACES sexual wellness team. She also serves on the ASUU Student Resources Board.