Trust in Public Health
June 3, 2021
by Jonathan Imbody
WND recently published my op-ed designed to highlight the benefits of trusted doctors and faith-based organizations communicating on public health issues. I also noted what I considered to be several significant failures of government public health messaging.
Out of respect for the breadth of opinions on both politics and pandemic approaches within CMDA, I wrote in my personal capacity. Plus, editors choose their own headlines, which sometimes reflect their own bias or desire for “click bait” rather than the author’s tone and perspective.
Several of the excerpted points below, however, may attract a consensus of agreement:
- An effective public health policy and message must weigh non-health harms. We are learning to our chagrin that shutting down everything based on a myopic focus on infection avoidance can open the door to myriad other maladies: unemployment; loss of children’s education, school meals and reporting of abuse; mental health crises; substance abuse; suicides; divorce; and national economic vulnerability. Weighing these catastrophic effects may lead some policy makers to conclude that these combined indirect dangers outweigh the direct danger of disease. A targeted approach may prevent more harm than a blunt shutdown.
- An effective public health policy and message must be calm and measured.
During a White House briefing, Walensky suddenly burst out with, “I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.” A news report observed that Walensky “appeared to grow emotional” during the public venting of her fear, as she continued, “But right now I’m scared.”
Hardly a Churchillian moment. Half the country probably hid in their basements wearing triple masks, while the other half laughed out loud on their way to the bar. Instead of alarmist reactions, we need steady, confidence-building messages that tamp down fear, instill courage and equip the public for action. In a public health crisis, effective communication can save lives, and ineffective communication can cost lives.
We appreciate the public health officials and politicians who have listened to the concerns of everyday Americans and have communicated honestly, respectfully and effectively. But when politicians and public health officials prove tone deaf and take an arrogant, autocratic approach that alienates half the country, the task of communicating lifesaving messages falls to local community health professionals and faith leaders.
These frontline servant-leaders have real relationships with and the trust of their patients and congregants. Their honest and respectful communications and focus on empowering others can help win the pandemic battle.