Strategies to Continue Encouraging COVID-19 Mitigation Behaviors
Even with the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, a group of international scholars are urging health experts and government officials to not relent on persuading people to continue recommended safety precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing. With the limited accessibility to vaccines and some individuals’ hesitancy to be vaccinated, personal and public health are still at risk. It will take time for herd immunity to take effect and slow the spread of the virus, which means it is imperative to continue communicating safety measures.
Researchers have determined a desperate need for consistent, unified public health messaging related to COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Avoiding partisan splits and addressing growing skepticism in science is necessary to encourage more people to follow safety measures. And government officials need to continue to combat misinformation by protecting expression, disseminating factual information, ensuring protections for whistleblowers, and supporting independent media environments.
Additionally, it may be time to rebrand “social distancing” to “physical distancing” to clearly communicate the life-saving public health behavior desired during the COVID-19 pandemic that encourages people to physically distance themselves while still maintaining social relationships for improved mental health.
Finally, determining the most effective spokesperson to communication COVID-19 safety recommendations, like social and physical distancing, is important. One study found that government officials who demonstrated concern for the current situation and the well-being of others were effective at gaining compliance, but that different segments of the population may need different spokespersons to be effective.
Groups to Target for COVID-19 Health Messaging
Although communicating the importance of safety to all individuals is necessary, it may be even more vital for certain groups of people. Adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are at an increased risk of serious health outcomes if they contract COVID-19. Researchers offer health education specialists three guidelines to help reduce the spread in this population, including effectively and efficiently disseminating educational materials that address virus reduction, mitigation, and containment.
Additionally, people with disabilities may be at a higher risk of negative health outcomes if they contract COVID-19. Because individuals with communication disabilities, in particular, have decreased trust in information and therefore take less action, it is important to target this group of individuals with clear, consistent, non-polarizing messages.
Individuals with obesity are another group of people who are at higher risk of mortality and morbidity from COVID-19 and who may be reluctant to be vaccinated because of concerns that the vaccine will be less effective for this group. Messaging to encourage obese individuals to get vaccinated must be data-driven, transparent, and sensitive to weight stigma.