By Thanksgiving 2020, Joey Roesch had had enough.
Increasingly concerned with Blair County’s continuous rise in coronavirus cases, he felt compelled to take action.
“The number of cases and hospitalizations worried me. I didn’t want our hospitals to get overwhelmed. God forbid somebody in the community or my family tests positive and needs to be in the hospital, but there’s no bed available, or we run out of ventilators. I was very concerned.”
The Altoona native thought about what he could do in his capacity as a biology major at Penn State Altoona and as a community member. He decided an educational campaign would be the most impactful approach. He began by reaching out to the city’s mayor, Matt Pacifico, to find out how best to start. Open to the idea, Pacifico brought other community leaders on board, including the Altoona emergency management coordinator, the public government coordinator for the city of Altoona, and LaVonne Falbo, president of the Altoona Area Business Community.
Joey Roesch (right) stands with LaVonne Falbo, Altoona Area Business Community president, and Mayor Matt Pacifico to promote Mask Up Altoona.
Seeing plenty of disregard for pandemic safety protocols in and around the city, the group named the project Mask Up Altoona. Roesch thought one way to help increase the use of masks would be a series of informative posters to distribute around the county. “I looked at the Centers for Disease Control’s information, and I looked at the White House Coronavirus Task Force information. It all points to wearing masks properly over your nose and your mouth.” Roesch created three different versions and workshopped the slogans with his collaborators. They settled on “Let's crush this Altoona,” “Protect Altoona,” and “We're in it Together Altoona.”
“This is my community. This is my home. I've watched this virus spread across the globe, and I know what it can do to people. I don't want that to happen to anybody here when it doesn’t have to.”
Copy-Rite in Altoona stepped up to print 100 copies of each poster for free. Roesch then dispensed the posters to businesses in and around the city for display, including Mama Randazzo’s Pizzeria, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Staples, and LaVintage Décor. Posters were also shared electronically to Blair County’s government website, social media accounts, and public access channel.
The next piece of the campaign was to have the masks promoted on those posters available to the public. The masks, produced by The Lightning Bug Gift Company in Hollidaysburg, are stamped with the same slogans as the posters. The Altoona Area Business Community paid for the first run of 150 masks, which can be picked up for free at LaVintage Décor and B4 Club Therapy. Community members can also email [email protected] to get one and show their support for the Mask Up Altoona effort.
Joey Roesch shows off a box of face masks created for the Mask Up Altoona program.
Roesch has been pleased with the support and cooperation from local officials and businesses. But he knows the real issue is getting buy-in from the public, with many individuals skeptical or resistant.
“I think the key is talking directly to the people, talking directly to the citizens and saying, ‘hey, these guidelines, even though we might not necessarily like them, they do work.’” Roesch continues, “Masks work. Social distancing works. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, it all works. Now we just need everyone to do their part, because we can't fight this alone. It's not an individual effort. It has to be a community effort."
Roesch plans to continue serving as the face of Mask Up Altoona, disseminating information and enthusiasm for the project, and hopes to spread it into neighboring communities. He says if the program is as successful as he hopes it will be, other municipalities will notice and jump on board to bring Covid-19 numbers down and keep the public safe.
“I would hate to see this run further than it needs to. I think the whole community can agree with that. We're all tired of it, but we have to double down, and we have to make sure we do something now so that we can defeat this.”