Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been one element of mitigation that has been botched from the very beginning: communication. According to Vox, United States agencies and high-ranking government officials have consistently faced obstacles in relaying proper COVID mitigation recommendations since the beginning of the pandemic.
Vox reporter Dylan Scott detailed the pandemic timeline and how poor communication strategies have increased apprehension where critical aspects of the COVID mitigation are concerned: mask and vaccine mandates have been particularly difficult to enforce.
“Communication is an essential part of any public health response,” Scott wrote. “But US health agencies have struggled with it since the very beginning of the pandemic, when government officials initially advised against wearing masks in early 2020 before reversing themselves to recommend nearly universal masking.”
Scott insists there are two reasons why public health agencies and institutions have faced such difficulty communicating. He explained: “America’s public health institutions have failed to communicate effectively with the US public throughout the pandemic for two reasons: either they have been left trying to defend poor policies, or the messaging has taken the place of creating any kind of coherent policy at all.”
He went on to share details from his discussion with a number of epidemiologists who have also expressed concern about the failure to properly communicate with the American public.
Briana Mezuk, the co-director of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Michigan, agreed that communication is a critical component that has been lacking throughout the pandemic.
“I don’t think any federal or state agency has done a great job communicating policy during the pandemic,” Mezuk told. “The CDC should have been setting the example, and I guess in a way it did: a less-than-great example.”
Michael Mackert, director of the University of Texas Austin’s Center for Health Communication, also said, “We cannot pretend that communication can get us out of policy answers.”
Scott Ratzan, a CUNY lecturer and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, expressed concern about the lack of preparation and clarity in explaining complexities to the public. “Our institutions are failing us with the lack of coordination, the lack of clarity,” Ratzan explained. “This is a case clearly that shows our 21st-century institutions are not prepared.”
So, what could improve the breakdown in communication between public health officials and the public? Ratzan believes there are viable strategies that can be implemented.
“We don’t need to give people all the technical information that can be misconstrued and turned into misinformation,” Ratzan said. “The scientists might think they have to explain all the reasons. But, in the end, we need scientific consensus that is not only data-driven but also reflects a social science base of how people are going to respond.”
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