Vox: The Most Consistently Botched Part of the US Pandemic Response

BP2C Executive Director Dr. Scott Ratzan was featured in Vox’s article “The most consistently botched part of the US pandemic response” on January 14 written by Dylan Scott. In the article, Ratzan noted that: “Our institutions are failing us with the lack of coordination, the lack of clarity. This is a case clearly that shows our 21st-century institutions are not prepared.” Vox’s Dylan Scott writes, in the US, a messy policy process led to poor messaging. Several experts I spoke to contrasted the confusion over vaccines with the simple rubrics used to communicate the risk of an incoming hurricane. People don’t need to know the intricacies of meteorology to understand that a Category 5 hurricane is going to be bad. But we have failed to find the same effective shorthand to communicate basic facts about Covid-19. To this, Ratzan added: “I don’t know the drop in barometric pressure. We don’t need to give people all the technical information that can be misconstrued and turned into misinformation,” Ratzan said. “The scientists might think they have to explain all the reasons. But, in the end, we need scientific consensus that is not only data-driven but also reflects a social science base of how people are going to respond…It’s not only getting the message right, but having the right messenger, with the right dosage.” Read the full article article below.

The fierce backlash to the CDC’s recent decision to shorten the recommended isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 was the latest in a series of communications blunders so severe that they have now become a meme.

Communication is an essential part of any public health response. But US health agencies have struggled with it since the very beginning of the pandemic, when government officials initially advised against wearing masks in early 2020 before reversing themselves to recommend nearly universal masking.

It appeared the initial guidance may have been issued in order to preserve enough masks for health care workers. Government officials were warning at the time that hospitals’ supplies could be depleted at a critical moment if there was a run on masks. It was the first of the pandemic’s “noble lies,” The Weeks Ryan Cooper wrote in a blistering essay on the paternalistic treatment of the US public that has undermined the country’s Covid-19 response.

America’s public health institutions have failed to communicate effectively with the US public throughout the pandemic for two reasons: either they have been left trying to defend poor policies, or the messaging has taken the place of creating any kind of coherent policy at all.

“I don’t think any federal or state agency has done a great job communicating policy during the pandemic,” Briana Mezuk, co-director of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told me. “The CDC should have been setting the example, and I guess in a way it did: a less-than-great example.”