COVID-19 Public Health Messaging Needs to Improve

September 30, 2020

Brad Spellberg, MD, describes the inconsistent, impersonal messaging given to the public as cases begin to rise again.

The occurrence of the US reaching 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic last week aligned with a rise in daily new cases to 50,000-plus—a return to midsummer highs being reported when cases spiked throughout southern and western regions.

It warrants clarification: is this the second wave of COVID-19 in the US? Or were those summertime spikes the second wave?

To Brad Spellberg, MD, the question is a moot point: there is little singularity in how the pandemic is affecting the country.

“It is difficult to talk about the number of peaks and waves, because in the United States, we don’t have 1 pandemic,” he said. “We have a thousand different pandemics, because the jurisdiction or responsibility for combating the virus has been left to local public health offices, states, and municipalities.”

In an interview with Contagion®, Spellberg, the chief medical officer of the Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Medical Center, discussed the “whack-a-mole” phenomenon of COVID-19 spread as it rises again in the early fall season: one region seemingly having managed the virus for weeks on end suddenly becomes a hotspot.

Spellberg emphasized the need for a unified response to the pandemic—a tall order given what he called a “hyperpolarization” of rhetoric.

“Our problems are not scientific,” Spellberg said. “Our problems are political. Our problems are civil discourse.”

What message gets through in the end is one that values the wellbeing and interests of the individual. Messaging on the pandemic should follow suit.

“We have to respect and understand human nature if we’re going to get people to do what we want them to do,” Spellberg said.