NEW YORK, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) — Vox, an American news and opinion website, on Friday published an essay criticizing U.S. health agencies and their officials for their failure to effectively communicate with the public over the COVID-19 pandemic, all the way through its raging course.
“The fierce backlash to the CDC’s (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 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,” it said. America’s public health institutions have failed to communicate effectively with the U.S. 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, according to the article. “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, was quoted as saying. “The CDC should have been setting the example, and I guess in a way it did: a less-than-great example.”
Communication is an essential part of any public health response, but U.S. 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, said the author Dylan Scott, who is a policy reporter at Vox. 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,” according to the essay.
A year after the first masking flip-flop, the CDC stumbled on masks again. In April 2021, the agency urged vaccinated people to continue wearing masks in most indoor settings to reduce transmission before reversing itself and saying that vaccinated people could feel free not to wear masks indoors unless it was required by a local or state government. “Many public health experts believed the decision to relax the masking guidance for vaccinated people was premature and, just a few months later when the delta variant drove up cases, the CDC changed course again and recommended everyone, including vaccinated people, wear masks when indoors in public,” added the article.
“The problem of unsound or indecisive policy creating bad messaging has been repeated over and over again throughout the pandemic, which has deepened skepticism about the agency’s recommendations and created a fertile environment for disinformation to flourish,” said the essay titled “The Most Consistently Botched Part of the U.S. Pandemic Response.”
“Public health authorities faced serious obstacles to communicating effectively with the public,” it said. The American people are divided, consuming different information from different sources, motivated by different ideologies. Some of the confusion that has undermined the American response was avoidable. Prevailing attitudes inside the medical establishment prior to COVID-19 and specific mistakes made during the pandemic itself have contributed to the disconnect between public health authorities and the public they are trying to protect, according to the article. “Our institutions are failing us with the lack of coordination, the lack of clarity,” Scott Ratzan, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives and a lecturer at the City University of New York, was quoted as saying. “This is a case clearly that shows our 21st-century institutions are not prepared.”