In late February, when coronavirus was starting to invade these shores, T. Garland Stansell, the veteran health care communicator, told us, “Whatever you do [in a health crisis], whatever platform you use to communicate,” make sure your messaging is consistent. Everyone at a company or organization needs to read from the same script.
Six weeks later, the advice of Stansell, who's also PRSA's chair and CCO of Children's of Alabama, is barely remembered, particularly judging from the competing onslaught of messages the federal government emits.
Contrasting messages were in evidence again today. During the White House briefing this evening, President Trump said that “more than 20 states” are in “extremely good shape.” These states, the president said, could re-open “fairly quickly…even before the [May 1] date.”
The president did not name the states.
Since the middle of last month, every state in the union has reported cases of coronavirus. As of this evening, there were 601,472 confirmed cases in the US and 24,429 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Medicine. Today was the virus's deadliest day in the US so far, with some 2,100 reported deaths.
A Different Message
Meanwhile, the administration’s top infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, during an interview with the Associated Press earlier in the day, assessed the prospect of sending Americans back to work within weeks: “We’re not there yet,” he said.
Fauci wants to see evidence the country has “something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on” to rapidly test people before they’re sent back to work. In addition, after someone tests positive, there must be a way to trace those they’ve come into contact with, he says.
While the president said again today that the US is the world's testing leader, which is true, he failed to note that the 2 million Americans tested comprise not quite one percent of the population. Listening to the president during daily White House briefing, you'd not know there's a testing shortage.
Without more testing, many experts say, you’re essentially flying blind. Sending people to work too soon, without adequate testing, could result in more infections. “I’ll guarantee you” that, Fauci told the AP. Fauci and other medical experts also believe reopening the country will mean an reduction in distancing restrictions.
The May 1 date, Fauci said, is “a bit overly optimistic.” The doctor was not at tonight's briefing.
Meanwhile, the fallout of competing messages continues to be evident in other settings too. For example, a shopping mall owner in Nebraska boasted of reopening shortly. “We are going to be the first shopping center that opens in North America,” said Rod Yates of Nebraska Crossing mall, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The mall has set April 24 as a soft opening target date.
The paper also noted that Nebraska Hospital Association chief Laura Redoutey, in a statement, said the mall’s proposed reopening “poses serious risks to the health of all Nebraskans. Quite simply, it’s irresponsible for a nonessential retailer to open its doors to the public in the middle of a pandemic.”
Nebraska is one of 7 states without stay-at-home orders. It has reported nearly 900 confirmed cases and 20 deaths, for a mortality rate of 1 death per 100,000 citizens.
This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.