This message becomes more relevant now than before with the growing presence of the COVID 19 variants. The new variants are more transmissible; for example, the UK variant is said to be 56 percent more transmissible than the original COVID 19 virus.
What does that mean?
It means if the original one takes 20 days to double the number of us infected, this variant will do it within 10 days. Some epidemiologists predict the numbers can go up by more than 10 fold if the current lockdown restrictions are removed.
As an individual who closely follows pandemic communication, I have been observing some communication “traps” that the communicators fall into. During my research on this, I found excellent advice from the US CDC website with regard to this topic. I am sharing relevant pieces from that post here.
This post details out dos and don’ts when we communicate events related to an outbreak.
|Dos||Do not s|
|define technical terms in plain language||Use language that even a small section cannot understand|
|Ask whether you have made the information clear.||Do not assume that everything is clear.|
|use examples or analogues to explain a complex topic||Do not assume they understand everything.|
|Focus on facts at hand||Do not speculate|
|Promise only what you can deliver||Do not make promises you cannot deliver|
|Take responsibility of your share of the problem; use empathy||Do not blame or shame others|
What we need exactly is to stop spreading the COVID 19 virus; that is it. We do it by staying away from each other physically and adhering to washing hands each time when we touch anything or any surface outside the home and avoid touching face each time after touching anything or any surface outside the home.
Certainly, not social distancing; in fact, we should combat social isolation. I am not the only one talking about it. Although a bit late, WHO emphasized its position about it at one of their media conferences, held on March 20, 2020; this is what, the WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerhove said;
We’re changing to say physical distance and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected.
More than a month later, we can see the most countries are still using the term, “social distancing” instead of “physical distancing”.
“No health without mental health”: This became a major theme popularized by the UN and of course, the WHO sometime back. Although we talk about it, we hardly observe its due prominence in mass media and at any other agency communique mandated for mental health promotion, particularly with increased reporting of domestic violence as collateral damage of this pandemic.
Interestingly I found two posters developed by a small, still very young country highlighting the importance of social connection while maintaining physical distancing. The country is Timor-Leste.
Here it is:
Why is this paradigm shift necessary?
Rebecca Gale outlined several valid reasons in her post in the Washington Post based on an interview with Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The key points he pointed out are as follows;
- Those with stronger social ties are more capable to weather the storm.
- The communities who rebuild and adapt their lives to the “new normal” are the ones who are with strong social networks.
- The people and communities who had difficulties coming back to their new normal lives were the ones with weak social ties and lack mutual trust and cohesion.
Words matter in Communicating COVID 19 pandemic. It is not easy. Unknowingly, we contribute to social stigma with our words and phrases. UN agencies have been addressing this problem during the past two decades with regard to previous outbreaks and pandemics through their country counterparts.
Still, the problem exists and is widespread.
Find out the words and phrases that we need to use and avoid while communicating COVID 19.
Words matter in COVID 19 communication; it matters a lot.
Raise awareness among your circles, particularly opinion leaders, decision-makers, program managers, social media, and other influencers including media reporters, and their editors.
|Talk about||Do not talk about|
|COVID -19||Wuhan virus/ Chinese virus|
|People who have COVID -19||COVID – 19 cases|
|People who are being treated for COVID -19|
|People who died after contracting COVID -19||COVID – 19 victims|
|People “acquiring” or “contracting” COVID-19||People “transmitting COVID-19” / People “infecting” others/ “spreading the virus to others”|
|Talk positively, effectiveness of the measures taken||Do not use hyperbolic language designed to raise fear like, “plague”, “apocalypse”.|
|Do not emphasize or dwell on negatives, messages of threat|
prepared based on information available in the WHO/UNICEF guide document: https://www.unicef.org/media/65931/file/Social%20stigma%20associated%20with%20the%20coronavirus%20disease%202019%20(COVID-19).pdf
An electron microscopic view of the COVID 19 viruses coming out to the surface of a cell in a laboratory (photo credit: NIAID; the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license;https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/49557785797
COVID 19 is a virus; is it a living thing?
For the first time, in 1935, Wendell Stanley, a chemist, isolated some proteins from a plant virus; it was later recognized as RNA. He and others knew at that time its ability to multiply once inside a living cell but not by itself. (He shared the Nobel prize in 1946 for the achievement).
This entity – called virus – when lands on a living cell, sheds its covering, injects the RNA into the cell. The cell nucleus misreads the RNA as its own one and begins to multiply.
In a way, a virus owns only a blueprint. It has to depend on others for materials to multiply; that means it essentially needs a host whether the host likes it or not. Once it lands on the cell wall, it tricks the cell to get the wall opened and sends the RNA or DNA inside the host cell. That is it. It robs all the host’s material, tricks again the host’s nucleus to misread, and ultimately the helpless host begins cloning the virus. And, it goes on and on.
Back to square one: Is a virus a living thing? not really; then is it a dead thing? not really. Then, what is it? something in-between.
There are many informational YouTube videos that describes how the virus tricks our cells to get into. This is one of such a video clip.