Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia supported the CEG's program. "I am pleased the CDC is investing in the Community Education Group...while also supporting community outreach efforts to benefit public health," he said in a statement. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Community Education Group (CEG), a national non-profit agency in Washington, D.C., has been awarded a $3.5 million grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch a one-year pilot program to increase vaccinations and testing in West Virginia.

And while the focus will be on Covid-19 vaccinations and testing, the program “Lessons Learned, Lessons Applied,” will use the launch pad of the pandemic to increase vaccines and testing for other issues facing the underserved populations in rural parts of that state during the pandemic, officials with the group said.

CEG Executive Director, A. Toni Young (Photo submitted)

“The CDC funding will allow CEG to address the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Substance Use Disorder syndemic in West Virginia,” said CEG Executive Director A. Toni Young. “We are grateful to West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito for playing a pivotal role in securing CDC funding to serve our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Funded through the American Rescue Plan, the program will launch in two facilities – in Charleston and Morgantown, Young said, that will serve as centers where CEG can train outreach workers, as well as support contract nurses and community health workers, and build up a capacity to fight against Covid-19, and other issues. Outreach workers will first focus Covid education, vaccination, and testing on those in congregate living facilities – such as rehabilitation facilities and medically-assisted treatment facilities, Young said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) supported CEG’s efforts.

“The Covid-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe, effective and our best chance at defeating the Covid-19 pandemic,” Manchin said in a statement. “But it is critical that we work together to increase vaccine confidence for West Virginians living in rural communities. I am pleased the CDC is investing in the Community Education Group to do just this while also supporting community outreach efforts to benefit public health.”

The incidence of Covid-19 in rural areas surpassed that in urban areas in September 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those same areas have seen a lower vaccination rate, however. Only 38.9% residents in rural counties had been fully vaccinated as of April 2021, compared to 45.7% in urban counties. The delta variant raised the number of rural cases of Covid-19 some 500% since June 2021, an analysis by The Daily Yonder found. 

With the delta variant of Covid causing increased cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the disease, especially in rural America, Young said the program would partner with federal, state and local partners, to get to rural residents where they live. The group plans to hire 50 health and community workers, as well as train local community health workers, to do testing and vaccinations. The group will work on influencing familial, church, community and social networks to increase rural acceptance of testing and vaccinations, she said.

If the program is successful, she said, CEG hopes to present it as a model for other areas.

“What we can do is have a program that is one we can replicate,” Young said. “If we can make this thing work here, we can make this work throughout Appalachia and then throughout rural America.”