‘Science Says’ Sunday – 5 facts about COVID-19 communication


Last week, I shared a short Instagram TV video where I pleaded with my viewers/readers to please continue social distancing. In that time, I have given media interviews, participated on video podcasts like Communal Expressions, all with the same message: We must continue to practice social distancing to help flatten the curve.

A colleague of mine shared a Twitter thread by Vivek Murthy, titled “Five tried and true principles for communication during a public health crisis (these literally save lives). In it, he shared five principles that are crucial to communication during public health crises and they include:

  1. Be transparent and truthful
  2. Be consistent
  3. Over communicate
  4. Lead with scientists and science
  5. Be compassionate

In my communication on Chic in Academia, I have attempted to share messages about COVID-19, keeping all of the above in mind. What is disheartening is, hearing people continue to call this all a hoax; saying that flattening the curve and social distancing is an over reaction; discrediting the fact that scientists, physicians, health care workers, and so many others are working tirelessly to try and get this pandemic under control.

Last week, I shared information with articles providing evidence that :

While I recognize that not everyone I know reads my blog, or that everyone you know reads this blog, I do know that this messaging is not unique, and mirrors what a lot of experts are saying.

For what it’s worth, until we have (not listed in any particular order),:

1) COVID-19 tests for everyone

2) ventilators and beds for all critical ill patients

3) personal protective equipment for our friends on the front line (physicians/healthcare workers)

4) antibody tests

5) an effective drug treatment

6) a vaccine

7) accurate data (we still don’t know exactly what our denominator is!!)

8) accurate and consistent messaging about what we need to do to get a handle of this pandemic

we will continue to see known case and mortality numbers increase, especially if we don’t continue social distancing. Ensuring #1-8 above will help reduce the need for social distancing. At minimum, #1-6 would help provide answers for #7 and #8.

I have shared all the information we have to date. What we need now is some degree of ‘lever adjustment’ to move forward. In the short term, a high degree of social distancing is important because we need the other levers to rise or increase in order to reduce the lever or need for social distancing:

Screen Shot 2020-03-29 at 5.14.14 PM

Once we have a effective treatment, antibody tests to determine who has been sick and recovered, comprehensive testing, and everything our hospitals need to treat everyone who gets sick, then we can begin to scale back on significantly on social distancing efforts.

Screen Shot 2020-03-29 at 5.16.22 PM

NOTE: If you’re reading this and can help me make these figures interactive, please email me! bhidalgo@uab.edu

In the news this week, you may have heard that more masks are coming, that additional ventilators are being shipped to states, and that companies are developing tests to determine whether you are positive or have been previously infected. I’m excited to see what awaits us, but for now, social distancing is a must.

Because I haven’t been able to upload my own IGTV video, here’s one that Communal Expressions shared this week on their Facebook page where I answer a number of questions about what we do and don’t know about COVID-19:

Finally and most importantly, many of you continue to ask questions about the following topics, so here are some short answers:

  1. Can I continue to take Ibuprofen? YES. Here’s an article that tells you why you should not be quick to abandon current treatment you may be on.
  2. Can I wear a mask if I have one? If you have surgical or N95 masks at home, you should donate them to your local hospital because many hospitals DO NOT HAVE ANY. If you are making homemade masks, please also donate those to your local hospital until they can obtain more surgical and N95 masks. When are hospitals are fully stocked, then you can wear masks if you want to. If you are sick, you should be at home, and you can wear a mask to keep droplets from falling all over your house and infecting other people in your home.
  3. Can I pick up takeout, curbside meals, or get food delivered? Yes! Read about why it’s safe here.
  4. Can I self-treat if I think I have or have been diagnosed with COVID? NO. Read why here.
  5. Can I get re-infected with COVID-19 if I’ve already had it? Evidence suggests no. Good article describing why, here.
  6. Is the virus mutating? Yes, but here’s why it doesn’t appear to be a big problem.
  7. Should I worry about my risk for COVID-19 if I have a specific blood type? NO. Here’s why.
  8. I’m interested in COVID-19 projections for my state. Where can I find that information? Here’s a good resource!
  9. Is the virus that causes COVID-19 airborne?! No. World Health Organization fact check, here. Note that aerosols ARE an issue in hospital settings during intubations, for example, so medical professionals do need to worry about the virus becoming aerosolized and need appropriate personal protection like face masks to prevent getting infected.Image
  10. Can I infect other people even if I am not symptomatic? YES. The evidence we have so far suggests that there is some asymptomatic transmission/infections happening. Here’s a figure that shows what the current evidence suggests:


In short, whether you only get a little sick or super sick, the fact remains: YOU CAN MAKE OTHERS SICK during the period when you have ZERO TO NO symptoms. Until we can test everyone, and adjust the levers on the graphic shown above, please #stayhome and keep #socialdistancing to help #flattenthecurve.

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