The Language of COVID-19: What's Gone Wrong and How We Do Better
The coronavirus and COVID-19 disease have highlighted the central role of communication in public health emergencies and disasters. Information about the virus and disease—who's affected and why, protective behaviors, and consequences—have become so overwhelming and confusing that the World Health Organization declared an "infodemic of misinformation."
Given that the basic structure of crisis and emergency response messaging is well-known in public health, how did COVID-19 communication go so wrong? How can health literacy and health communication practitioners contribute to a healthier information environment? This presentation will review the basic principles of clear and useful risk messages, examine examples of virus and COVID-19 information, and diagram improvements.
Objective 1: List the core features of an effective risk communication message
Objective 2: Name 3 ways COVID-19 information did not effectively convey risk
Objective 3: Describe 2 actions health literacy practitioners can take to improve COVID-19 information
Cynthia Baur, PhD
Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, University of Maryland
Dr. Cynthia Baur became the Director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy in January 2017. Prior to coming to UMD, Dr. Baur worked for 17 years in communication leadership roles with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. Most recently, she served as the Senior Advisor for Health Literacy in the CDC Office of the Associate Director for Communication and CDC's Senior Official for the Plain Writing Act implementation. During her federal tenure, she led multiple initiatives to define best practices and guidelines in health communication and health literacy. She was the first manager of the Healthy People health communication objectives and the editor of the U.S. National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. At CDC, she created CDC’s health literacy website, which provides tools and online training to improve health literacy and public health, and she is the co-creator of the CDC Clear Communication Index, a set of scientific criteria for creating clear public communication materials. Her approach is based in communication science and focuses on providing diverse audiences with information in ways they can understand and use.