During an interview for a local paper about COVID-19 (Coronavirus), my mayor said: “Yes, people have died, mostly people who were in fragile condition.”
His statement was not unusual; it is messaging commonly used by public health officials, elected representatives, and media outlets when discussing public health threats; whether that threat is influenza, H1N1, COVID-19 or another infectious or viral disease.
While the purpose of public service announcements is to quell fear, the underlying message from statements like the mayor’s is this: healthy people are considered, the threat is downplayed, and high-risk populations are left to fend on our own. If a public health threat is, by default, advertised as only causing “mild symptoms for most people,” then healthy people – who don’t see their own lives or health at risk – will not perceive the seriousness of preventing its spread to vulnerable groups.
If the central theme is that healthy people needn’t worry, that’s the message that will routinely be broadcast. And when public messaging from reputable sources is treated as fact, it can then be weaponized against anyone who suggests differently.