How to Improve Public Health Communication on the Coronavirus Pandemic

Editorial: Say what? Public health leaders must improve their messaging on the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in ways we can’t predict. It’s changed our way of life, and how we interact with each other. We live, work and play among the virus, and we are now looking at each other as potential sources for infection.

This pandemic has also changed the way the nation’s public health leaders talk about it. For many public health leaders, their language and messaging about the virus has been inadequate or even misleading. They’ve been guilty of spreading fear over what’s not yet known or over concerns that a vaccine will be found. They’ve also been guilty of overinterpreting and exaggerating health-care developments.

Here’s one example of their messaging: Public health professionals who are working daily to reduce the rate of new cases of the coronavirus are being told that the rate of new cases has slowed in several areas of the United States. Why is this wrong?

This story is important for this reason: it highlights how we can use a “canary in a coal mine” principle to improve public health messaging on the pandemic and help guide leaders and policymakers in the weeks ahead.

In the last 24 hours, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has released an extensive document called “Communicating Public Health Threats in an Optimal Crisis” (COHNOC). The document states, “Communicating public health threats in an optimal crisis is challenging. It requires a wide variety of communications from multiple sources, all of which must include the appropriate audience, tone, and timeliness.”

While some of the information about the COHNOC is new, it’s no doubt well-researched. The document will be most informative for the public health leaders who make decisions in the wake of the virus. And it will be an

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