Travelers' Health Project Provides Vital COVID-19 Information and Services to Travelers at the Texas-Mexico Border
CHPPR’s Travelers’ Health Project partners with Community Health Workers (CHWs) to engage international travelers along the Texas-Mexico border, providing them with COVID-19 education and services. CHWs also collect data about traveler trends related to COVID-19, which will aid in the future development of improved approaches for data collection, communication, and other public health activities focused on international travelers.
“Everyone travels sometimes, facing increased risk of getting sick and spreading infectious diseases,” said Louis D. Brown, PhD, Principal Investigator for the project. “The CHWS we work with serve as an approachable and trustworthy source of information for travelers, which is key for effective health communication.”
The Texas-Mexico border is one of the busiest international boundaries in the world, with tens of thousands of crossings a day. Border travel was heavily restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lifting of these restrictions created both an urgent need for a better understanding of border traveler behaviors and an opportunity to deliver critical COVID-19 information across the border.
The Travelers’ Health Project partners with CHWs to both survey travelers and provide up-to-date COVID-19 information. Communities in this region are largely Spanish-speaking and low income with generally poor healthcare access. They also experience numerous health disparities. The CHWs working in this project come from these communities and are able to establish effective communication with these populations. CHWs have so far reached tens of thousands of travelers at ports of entry, bridges, bus stops, and other places frequented by international travelers.
In addition to providing up-to-date COVID-19 information, the CHWs also offer testing services. They have administered over 500 rapid COVID-19 tests to participants and also assisted travelers with ordering free, at-home COVID-19 testing kits from the federal government. CHWs helped in the coordination and implementation of COVID-19 vaccination events in El Paso and Presidio, Texas. They have also provided information about other infectious diseases like monkey pox and RSV.
“The community health workers we’ve partnered with have had tremendous reach with modest funding,” said Dr. Brown. “They stand as an exemplar of what health promotion can do to reach vulnerable and minority populations to prevent disease transmission.”
The data gathered from travelers includes their reasons for traveling, COVID-19 vaccination and booster status, and reasons for not getting the vaccine (if applicable). This data is shared with CDC and relevant public health partners for follow up and investigation. In the long-term, it will also be used to develop new communications approaches for travelers and to inform the organization of public health activities at ports of entry and other travel hubs.
The Travelers’ Health Project is conducted by investigators and staff at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in El Paso. The project is funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services through a grant by the CDC.