1. Home
  2. /
  3. Newsroom & Events
  4. /
  5. Newsroom

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. About
  4. /
  5. Stories

Memes, flip phones: North Philly tries new tools in fight against coronavirus

April 13, 2020

Memes, flip phones: North Philly tries new tools in fight against coronavirus

A woman wearing a surgical mask makes her way past a mural on the west side of the Save-A-Lot store at 22nd and Lehigh. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
A woman wearing a surgical mask makes her way past a mural on the west side of the Save-A-Lot store at 22nd and Lehigh. (Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)


First, preschool director Michele Ayala and her teachers delivered tablet computers with six months of free internet access to the homes of the 133 preschoolers who attend Trinidad Head Start in Fairhill.

Then Ayala set up an app to send videos to the kids and communicate with parents. When that was a big hit, she launched multiple daily Zoom lessons for her “babies” so they wouldn’t lose any of the learning they’d been absorbing since September.

“We get videos and messages and pictures from our kiddos saying how much they miss us and are sad and they want to go back to school,” said Ayala, whose center is one of four operated by the community development organization Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha.

“We write them back, ‘This is just temporary. It’s for us to be safe. This is what is needed right now so when everything is normal, everything is safe for you to go back to school. We’ve got to practice being safe. We’ve got to make the right choices,’” Ayala said.

Ayala and her staff aren’t alone in dedicating long hours and trying new methods to help the city and its vulnerable residents weather the coronavirus lockdown.

Teachers, health care workers, elected officials, grocery store operators, delivery drivers, community organizers and many volunteers have worked overtime for weeks to encourage everyone to comply with Mayor Jim Kenney’s stay-at-home order — and make it feasible for them to do so.

Figures released by the city underline the importance of staying at home, especially in areas like Trinidad’s Fairhill community, where higher rates of chronic health problems, layered with deep social inequities, present the perfect storm for a pandemic.

While the scarcity of testing masks the true number of infected people, a city map counting positive tests for coronavirus in each ZIP code shows a high rate in the school’s 19133 district. Nearly 37% of the 247 people tested in the zip tested positive for COVID-19 infection as of April 9.

Measured by income, the North Philadelphia neighborhood ranks as the city’s poorest, with many residents who do not have access to health care or stable housing, other factors that increase vulnerability to the disease. About half the population is Latinx and a large number do not speak English as a first language.

The virus may be spreading more in those areas because the residents can’t afford to stay at home from work or haven’t absorbed the message about sheltering in place, because of language barriers or because they don’t know anyone who has gotten sick and have not internalized the risks, public health experts say.

“I’m very, very frustrated,” Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said.

The councilmember said she heard from doctors at Temple University Hospital that they were seeing a high number of positive tests among Latinx residents, even as her constituents were reporting egregious cases of people gathering outdoors in large groups.

On the last Thursday of March, mild weather drew dozens of people to Waterloo Playground in the West Kensington-Fairhill area, Quiñones-Sánchez said. “They cut one of the gates and there were like 50 kids playing in there, kids and adults. The neighbors were all sending me clips from their cameras, texting me, inboxing me.”

People broke the fence at Waterloo Playground on North Howard Street after the city closed recreation facilities to promote social distancing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The councilmember said she has been inundated with messages on every imaginable app and social media platform since the coronavirus crisis reached Philadelphia. Many of the calls and messages come from Kensington, where drug users and dealers still cluster on street corners, ignoring the police who periodically drive by with bullhorns, telling them to disperse.

“The residents who live there are like, ‘I can’t go outside. All these people can be contaminated.’ What’s already a bad situation becomes untenable,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “You can imagine the frustrated calls that I’ve gotten.”


The need to comply with the city’s orders is particularly urgent in areas where widespread chronic health problems make residents more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms. In Hunting Park-Fairhill, 23% of residents are in poor physical health compared to 14% citywide, according to a 2019 report by the city’s Department of Public Health.

Nearby Upper Kensington had the bottom ranking for health outcomes in the report, with similar figures to Fairhill for several health conditions.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said the city is not using the ZIP code data to target public health outreach since the virus is present in all areas and services are being delivered citywide.

“This virus does not discriminate,” Farley said during a recent news conference. “The virus is in every neighborhood. It’s in every population. Everyone needs to take our recommendations seriously to avoid getting the infection or passing on the infection.”

But in recent days the city has released data showing that African Americans are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Thirty-eight percent of coronavirus deaths in the city were people who identified as African American while 24% percent were white. The city does not know the racial identity of 36%.

About 44% of the city’s population is Black and 34% non-Hispanic white.

Councilmember Cindy Bass, whose district encompasses majority-Black areas with high rates of people testing positive, described the situation as the tragic outgrowth of longstanding inequalities.

She said poverty and a lack of access to health care, a feeling of distance from the pandemic and longstanding cultural practices may be leading people to ignore the stay-at-home order and risk infection.

“In the African American community we have been known to go to work when we’re sick, we’ve been known to go to work when there’s a tragedy. Like, ‘I don’t have time to worry about coronavirus. I’ve got to worry about keeping the lights on. I’ve got to worry about keeping a roof over my head,’” Bass said. “Coronavirus seems far away, very distant, like, ‘I’ll worry about that when it gets here.’ And we just can’t do that.”

She wondered why the ZIP code data wasn’t playing a bigger role in shaping the city’s strategy for containing the pandemic.

“Why wouldn’t we target an area that has a lot of people who are being affected at a higher rate than other areas throughout the city?” Bass said. “What’s the use of data if you’re not using it to make decisions and to move resources?”

Tailoring the message

One strategy to encourage people to stay at home and practice social distancing is to have charismatic, beloved public figures put out the message in a way that resonates with residents, said Carolyn Cannuscio, a social epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She cited the example of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who made a funny video of herself doing various activities at home and internet memes showing her looming over the city, blocking entrances to parks and telling people to stay home.

Mayor Lightfoot #StayHomeSaveLives


Just a friendly reminder from your Auntie to stay home.

View image on Twitter

That’s the kind of creative approach City Council could take using a $400,000 appropriation for social distancing messaging approved last week as part of an $85.4 million emergency spending bill.

Quiñones-Sánchez and others said messages need to be expressed in everyday terms that people understand, rather than vague, technical terms like “flattening the curve.”

The councilmember said she envisions robocalls targeted to senior citizens or other vulnerable residents and printed materials like postcard mailers in multiple languages. Others at City Hall have begun experimenting with memes.

On a conference call organized by Temple University’s Center for Urban Bioethics, an African American community leader from Nicetown urged officials to tailor their messaging to young people, Quiñones-Sánchez said.

“She was like, ‘With all due respect, when you say social distancing, I’m not sure my community gets this. We need to talk about physically staying away from each other.’ Social distancing may be a little too fancy and not getting to the point with some folks,” the councilmember said.

Above and beyond the messaging challenges, there are cognitive biases to battle in all parts of the city.

Social scientists call one type of misperception of risk the “availability heuristic,” Cannuscio said.“If people don’t have an example from their own lives that’s accessible to them of, for example, someone who’s sick with COVID-19, it feels like such an abstract and remote threat that it’s hard to activate the protective mechanisms that would really get people to engage in social distancing,” she said.

Another phenomenon at work is “optimism bias,” where people underestimate risk or think they’ll fare better in a difficult situation than others, Cannuscio said. People are also bad at estimating physical distances, and may think they’re six feet apart when they’re actually closer, she said.

Cannuscio said she’s looked out the windows of her home next to Taney Park, on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, and been upset to see her neighbors and others picnicking despite the city’s social distancing order. It’s vital to remind everyone about the importance of staying at home. But at the same time, she said, there’s also a place for compassion for people fulfilling an “intense need to connect” during an extremely stressful time.

“We’re asking people to change so many behaviors in such a short period of time,” she said.

Cannuscio said it’s important to engineer environments in ways that establish clear social norms and make it easier for people to comply. At her local farmer’s market, Cannuscio annoyed a neighbor by suggesting they stagger their visits into a vendor’s crowded tent, but by the following week the market had set up a handwashing station and drawn lines on the ground six feet apart to encourage social distancing without conflict, she said.

Likewise, people need to have the ability to follow the rules, said Dr. Kathleen Reeves, the director of Temple’s Center for Urban Bioethics.

Children need educational opportunities or other activities they can do at home, like those being provided by Ayala and her staff at Trinidad preschool. Elderly people may need flip phones to maintain social contacts if they don’t know how to use computers, and many people need to get nutrition without going out, Reeves said.

After participants on the center’s conference call expressed concerns about infection rates among the Latinx community, the group arranged to print 10,000 flyers about social distancing in Spanish and English. Cousins Supermarket inserted the flyers into customers’ grocery bags and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha posted them in the windows of corner stores.

Some North Philadelphia communities are understandably wary about public health information they hear. They are more likely to trust information received through community partners who they know well, such as APM, Nicetown CDC and local churches, Reeves said.

Reeves said the center is coordinating with community organizations to deliver 300 bags of groceries weekly, especially to households with senior citizens and children. Temple is funding the deliveries with help from donors, she said. Separately, Cousins Supermarket donated and delivered groceries to 60 seniors in coordination with APM.

“If you have folks who are food-insecure, and you’re telling everyone to stay home, but they have no food, well, that’s not a reasonable thing to ask,” Reeves said. “Trying to help people have the tools they need to enact what we’re asking them to do is also very important.”

APM Addressing the Digital Divide/Tablet Delivery 3-30-2020

March 30, 2020

APM Tablet Delivery

At Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha, we are committed to our mission to help families achieve their greatest potential.  Today, our leadership and educators from the Early Childhood Education service area delivered nearly 700 tablets to the students that we serve.  The action taken today was truly empowering and the definition of selflessness.  Our commitment to those that we serve prioritizes service over self.  Thank you to TruMark Financial Credit Union for the resources to purchase the tablets and T-Mobile for providing 6 months of free internet service.

Trumark Financial



Addressing the Coronavirus

March 13, 2020

Dear APM community:

We are writing to provide information and updates about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). With three cases in Philadelphia as of Friday, March 13, APM recognizes its responsibility to connect those we serve to vital information and resources. We also want to let you know what we are doing to be prepared if the virus affects our APM community and have communicated these measures to all who use our early learning centers, behavioral health facilities, CUAs, and residences.

We take the health and safety of our APM family and staff very seriously and are moving forward with the appropriate precautions now in case we need to act immediately. Presently, APM does not have any suspected or confirmed cases in any of our facilities or with any of our staff members. If a staff member has a cold or is not feeling well, we have instructed them to stay home as a precautionary measure.

We are extremely diligent in our cleaning procedures, and we are adding more cleaning products to help safeguard our centers.

We encourage you to follow the same procedures we are using that are provided by The Philadelphia Department of Public Health. They suggest the following measures be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Encourage increased handwashing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes and wash hands immediately afterward.
  • Remain at home when feeling ill.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, eyes, or face.
  • Frequently clean surfaces that are considered to be high-touch in shared spaces such as door handles.
  • Make handwashing and alcohol-based hand-sanitizers easily available.

Additional information from the City of Philadelphia about the virus can be found by visiting: https://www.phila.gov/services/mental-physical-health/environmental-health-hazards/covid-19/

We appreciate your understanding as we put the health and safety of our entire APM family first. We see the unpredictability of this situation and the concern that accompanies that. We will monitor information from the City and the CDC in order to better address this moving forward and will provide updates accordingly.

We encourage everyone in our community to listen to facts and not respond to fear.

Take good care,

Nilda Ruiz

President and CEO


Querida comunidad de APM,

Les escribimos hoy para proveer información y actualizaciones sobre el coronavirus (COVID-19). Con tres (3) casos en Filadelfia al viernes 13 de marzo de 2020, APM reconoce su responsabilidad de proveer información y recursos. Asimismo, le queremos informar como nos estamos preparando en caso de que este virus afecte la comunidad de APM y hemos comunicado estas medidas a todas las personas que usan nuestros centros de aprendizaje, facilidades de salud mental, CUAs y residencias.

Nosotros tomamos la salud y seguridad de nuestros estudiantes y empleados muy seriamente, y estamos tomando ahora las precauciones adecuadas en caso de que tengamos que luego actuar inmediatamente. APM no tiene actualmente ningún caso sospechoso o confirmado de COVID-19 en ninguno de nuestros centros educativos o nuestro personal. Como medida preventiva, hemos instruido a todos nuestros empleados a que se mantengan en su casa si tienen un resfriado o no se sienten bien.

Estamos siendo extremadamente diligentes y rigurosos en nuestros procedimientos de limpieza, y estamos adquiriendo más productos de limpieza para proteger nuestros centros.

Exhortamos que sigan los mismos procedimientos que estamos usando, los cuales han sido dados por el Departamento de Salud Publica de Filadelfia. Ellos sugieren que se tomen las siguientes medidas para prevenir el contagio del COVID-19:

  • Animar a que las personas se laven las manos por al menos 20 segundos.
  • Cúbrase la boca cada vez que se tosa o estornude y lávese las manos inmediatamente.
  • Manténgase en su casa si se siente mal.
  • Evite tocarse la boca, nariz, ojos o rostro.
  • Limpie frecuentemente superficies limpias que pueden ser tocadas por muchas personas en espacios compartidos; por ejemplo, cerraduras y manijas de las puertas.
  • Mantenga jabones y limpiadores de mano disponibles para uso rápido.

Se puede obtener información adicional sobre el virus visitando la siguiente página de la ciudad Filadelfia: https://www.phila.gov/services/mental-physical-health/environmental-health-hazards/covid-19/ .

Apreciamos su comprensión mientras ponemos en primer lugar la salud y seguridad de nuestra familia de APM. Entendemos la imprevisibilidad de esta situación y las preocupaciones que esto trae. Estaremos monitoreando información de la Ciudad y el CDC para así poder responder a esta situación y proveerle datos actualizados de la mejor forma posible.

Exhortamos a todos en nuestra comunidad a escuchar los hechos y no responder a miedos.


Nilda Ruiz

Presidente y CEO

Background for Behavioral Health Speaker Series 2-13-2020

February 20, 2020

Behavioral Health Speaker Panel

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Focus Area: Cultural Competency and Economics in the Provision of Care

Featured Speaker:

Mackenzie Phillips, Actress, Author, &  Survivor of Substance Abuse

Additional Confirmed Panelists:

Michael Cram, Staff Inspector for the Philadelphia Police Department

Derrick Pelletier, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Councilwoman for the 7th District

Robert Torres, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Aging

Hector Colon-Rivera, MD,CMRO, Medical Director, APM (Moderator)

We are a nation in crisis. Drug overdoses claimed 72,000 lives in 2017. Suicide rates continue to climb. Life expectancy is on target to drop for a third straight year. We must look past the numbers and understand this crisis is about people, our people. Access to medical treatment. Opportunities for mental health services. Offering community stakeholders engagement and ownership in their health-related care. What is the financial key to meet these necessary and basic community needs?  APM’s goal is to make that personal connection between families and services; provide isolated elderly with community, aid single-parent households, all with the goal to stabilize families. Our approach is to communicate, educate, and empower.  This in-depth discussion brings together professionals from health care and academia to public policy and community stakeholders to explore these issues and consider solutions.

APM 50th Anniversary Media Kit

February 13, 2020

APM 50th Anniversary Media Kit


Please Click the Button to view material in relation to the upcoming events going on at APM during our 50th Anniversary:


APM Media Kit



Dr. Colon-Rivera Behavioral Health Speaker Series Plug 2-13-2020

February 13, 2020

APM Medical Director Interviewed by Syrmarie Villalobos on Telemundo 62


APM Medical Director Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera was interviewed yesterday by Syrmarie Villalobos on Telemundo 62.  Dr. Colon-Rivera spoke about our Behavioral Health Speaker Panel being held this evening at WHYY at 150 North Sixth Street.  This panel, the first of our 50th Anniversary Speaker Series, will have a keynote speech by Mackenzie Phillips, Actress, Author and Survivor of Substance Abuse.  The evening will also feature a panel of professionals, who will discuss Cultural Competency and Economics in the Provision of Care.  Our featured panel includes:

Michael Cram, Staff Inspector for the Philadelphia Police Department

Derrick Pelletier, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs

Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Councilwoman for the 7th District

Robert Torres, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Aging

Hector Colon-Rivera, MD,CMRO, Medical Director, APM (Moderator)


Build Your Future

Open Your Heart

Balance Your Life

Find a Service