We have seen many good guides lately that focus on how people can stay safe and healthy during the pandemic. And this kind of guidance is useful and necessary.
But here at We ❤ headquarters for health literacyWe have thought a lot about what is missing from this advice: how to protect other people. Because in a pandemic, every personal risk is a public risk – and every personal decision to wear a mask or stay at home is a public service. That is, if we focus too much on it self-Protect, we’re missing half the news.
Fortunately, most people want to do good and help others – and this desire to help people around us can even help motivate behavior changes. So when you write about COVID-19, use these tips to focus on the public in this public health crisis:
- Help people feel helpful (or even heroic!). Tell your audience that they can protect other people, even if they are not worried about themselves or their families. To eat out? Think of the server and the person at the next table. Are you traveling by plane? Think of the flight crew and other passengers. Emphasize that if you avoid exposing others to the virus, you could save a life. To make these public effects more personal, try to highlight real stories of people affected by COVID-19.
- Call up “COVID privilege”. Not everyone has the option to stay at home, and many people who don’t work remotely risk their lives for less than a living wage. So, remind readers who have the privilege of isolating themselves and their families from taking this power imbalance into account. Encourage them to ask a question like this: “Is it safe for me and my family to go on vacation / have someone clean our house / go to a salon?” it safe for us? and who will we come in contact with? “
- Draw helpful parallels to public health. People can resist mask mandates because the concept is so new. So help your readers connect to better known public health measures. Do you pay attention to speed limits when driving? Don’t smoke in restaurants? Do you cover your mouth when you cough? Masks are just that – something we all have to do to keep our fellow human beings safe and healthy.
- Keep an eye on the price. It makes no sense to pretend that COVID prevention is just a (socially distant) walk in the park. And your audience might feel that their responsible choices are meaningless given the irresponsible choices made by their chosen leaders. But individual actions make a difference in a pandemic. Remind them that participating in a joint effort to prioritize public health could now lead to a healthier future for all of us.
We also want to acknowledge that it is only useful to understand how your decisions affect others … when you actually have decisions. For many people, it is an economic necessity to do things that put others at risk – such as being a meter away from employees and sending children to a daycare center. So keep that distinction in mind and offer tips on mitigation so your readers can reduce the risk to themselves and to those around them.
Conclusion: COVID-19 is a public health crisis – so help your readers act for the benefit of all of us.
Tweet about it: When using #communicateCOVID, telling people how to protect themselves from # COVID19 is not enough. @CommunicateHlth explains how the public can be kept in public health: https://bit.ly/2OwgfEH
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