Some colleges paying student influencers to help prevent spread of COVID-19

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NEW YORK — Colleges have been a petri dish for the coronavirus and now some are paying their students to help prevent further spread.

Biology major Sarah Kerns doesn’t consider herself an Instagram influencer.

“Personally, I just see myself as a college girl with an Instagram,” Kerns said.

But earlier this year, the senior at the University of Missouri was chosen, along with five other students, by a marketing firm her college hired to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“They wanted to get the word out, and so we were talking about ways that people can protect themselves and also protect their mental health,” Kerns said.

A spokesperson for the university told CBS News, this was the first time the school used an “Instagram influencer” approach to reach the student body.

Christian Basi said the month-long campaign started at the end of August and cost roughly $10,000.

“It worked really well,” Basi said. “We did see an increase in COVID active cases – they peaked at the very beginning of September, on Labor Day weekend, and then after that we saw an immediate, dramatic drop in the number of active cases.”

Other schools, like Fordham University in New York City, are using their own social media accounts to reach students with pandemic safety messages, especially as Thanksgiving approaches. A pledge that says, “each of us caring for the whole of us,” has been posted to the Fordham’s public Instagram page every few days this semester, generating thousands of likes.

Kerns said she could see putting her Instagram account to work for the University of Missouri again.

“I would be open to it. You know, I’d have to agree with the campaign,” she said.

The University of Missouri says cases are contained right now, and the majority of students will be transitioned to remote learning following Thanksgiving break.

When asked, the University of Missouri said it would be open to having an outside marketing firm hire more students to influence and raise awareness about other health issues on campus, for example education about drugs and alcohol or sex education.

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