COVID COMMS: What do communicators do when cases are rising but people are getting bored?

Today, 157 people died of COVID-19 and a public sector comms person talked of how we are living in a ‘post-COVID’ world.

If we are truly living in an after the pandemic world then someone also needs to tell the 45,066 people in the UK who tested positive today.

And that’s the problem.

How do we communicate with people on a topic where people appear to have got bored?

Consumption of COVID-19 messaging is dropping

Ofcom data would suggest that our consumption of pandemic-related news has dropped.

In their latest data release, 73 per cent of UK people are looking for coronavirus news every day. That compares with 97 per cent in the first four weeks of the first lockdown.

The places where get our pandemic information have broadly remained the same but the numbers have fallen.

The BBC was the dominant channel for news in the first weeks of lockdown 1.0 with 79 per cent getting information from it and that’s dropped to 63 per cent.

Maybe the only place where the numbers have remained the same have been friends family and neighbours. In the early weeks,. this was around 30 per cent and that’s stayed about the same.

As for councils and local NHS, their COVID-19 messages are getting through to between five and six per cent of people in October 2021.

Across official channels, that’s now at 27 per cent.

Anecdotally, public sector communicators say they are spending less time on the topic than they have been.

Of course, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

We’re tolerating high rates in the UK – for now

Hannah Devlin wrote an engaging piece in The Guardian that looked at the UK’s high rates of infection compared with the rest of the world.

The article quotes Linda Bauld, professor of public health at University of Edinburgh:

“We’ve become used to something that has not gone away. I think there’s been a desensitisation to the mortality.”

The moment where the change kicks in may be when it appears that hospitals may be running out of beds, Devlin ponders.

We are built to react to change, she writes, not deal with a background noise of the same, she says.

So, what do we do? We plan

I’m struck by something that a Commscamp Still At Home attendee said in a session.

Jim Whittington, a communicator who has decades of experience dealing with large scale fires in incident that can last for months, said that one of the key roles is planning. Short and long term can take several hours a day. It’s the only way to stop you from getting out of a reactive mode, he said.

Part of that planning needs to factor in the fact that communicators are often broken, with mental health issues and physical health deteriorating.

Not only that, but Brexit-related shortages are also very much in view.

With winter approaching, it feels like teams and local resilience forums need to get into that planning mode.

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