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March 25, 2020
Communicating About COVID-19
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, caused by the virus named SARS-CoV-2, is on all our minds lately. From its first detection in China, the virus has now been discovered in locations around the globe and across the United States. The situation is complicated, and the facts are evolving. What can health communicators do to help inform the public without inciting a panic?
As Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in this site’s first guest post when Zika disease was in the headlines, “We in the public health sector must be crystal clear in articulating exactly what we know and what we still need to know about the threat, and in helping people understand how this new risk compares to risks they willingly assume every day. With that perspective, people will be better able to understand what rational steps they can take to protect themselves.”
As health communicators, we can help by relaying reliable information accurately and in a timely manner to the public so that people can make decisions based on facts and not hearsay. Part of this is to be aware of any inaccurate information that people might be sharing, on social media or elsewhere. We can also take care not to overhype the facts and instead focus on helping people understand their personal health risks and what they should do to help control the spread of disease. Who is at the greatest health risk? When would this information apply to them? What actions can they take?
Make sure to keep checking the NIH and CDC coronavirus disease sites for the latest official information. CDC also has a helpful guide specific to public health communicators. It’s intended for state and local public health information officers, health communication specialists, health educators, and other public health professionals responsible for planning communication strategies before, during, and after the outbreak of COVID-19.
When everyone has the facts, we’re all better equipped to address serious problems like this with diligence and resolve, and without panic. So keep calm and keep your audiences informed.