Speaking of pandemics: The art and science of risk communication

Public health messages should be loud and clear, so that everyone listens and stays safe. But that’s easier said than done — especially with a case as complex as Covid-19.

(9 Jul 2020, feed from Knowable Magazine) Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. Coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx. County health officials across the United States. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the emergence of a new set of household names: those in the media spotlight who are charged with helping the public understand what is happening, what is likely to happen next, how to behave to reduce the pandemic’s spread, and why.

Through these health officials, millions have heard about social isolation, flattening the curve, mask-wearing, vaccines, antiviral drugs and more.

The footing is tricky: Downplay a threat and the public might not react strongly enough; overdo it and they might not listen next time. And how can officials remain trustworthy when scientists’ understanding of a new virus is changing by the week?

Deborah Glik, a health-communication researcher at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, has spent decades studying the art and science of informing the public during health emergencies, a topic she wrote about back in 2007 in the Annual Review of Public Health. Over the years, Glik has helped the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop communications plans for a wide range of health hazards, including bioterrorism agents such as botulism and plague. Knowable Magazine spoke with Glik about the key principles that guide public health officials in their messaging, with special attention to the current pandemic.

Read the full story from Knowable Magazine here.


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