How Did We Get Here? COVID-19 Lessons in Failure, Forthcomingness and Facts

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are faced with more questions than answers. Amid conflicting safety protocols, ongoing developments in testing and vaccines and unpredictability of rising and falling death and infection rates, it’s difficult to assess how the trouble began.

Through it all, one question remains: How did we get here? Politicians, pundits and newsmakers have all weighed in. In my opinion, one journalist, well known in the world of science, has laid it out best.

That honor goes to Ed Yong, arguably one of the nation’s premier science writers, for his recent article in The Atlantic titled, “How the Pandemic Defeated America.” In it, he brilliantly outlines America’s mishandling of the pandemic, calling it “a full autopsy of what went wrong, every unattended weakness and unheeded warning.” Yong takes readers on an enlightening journey of insight and retrospection, attributing the pandemic to an unfortunate cocktail of various political and economic missteps, lack of accountability, proactivity and introspection, fueled by failure to crisis plan or properly address the vast inequities in our health system.

A brazen look at the underbelly of our nation’s shortcomings, Yong’s article provides some key learnings to consider for how we approach our own work—whether you’re a frontline medical worker or someone like me who works at Spectrum Science where we’ve taken a pledge to Beat the Sit out of COVID-19. As an earned media specialist who operates at the intersection of creative storytelling and factual data, this article draws some clear parallels to effective public relations:

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This popular Benjamin Franklin quote likely wasn’t about PR, but it sure is fitting. Yong’s article points to America’s hospitals being “stretched by market forces to run close to full capacity, with little ability to adapt in a crisis” and the chronic underfunding of public health before the pandemic ever began. It’s a cautionary tale about the importance of crisis planning, even when you think things are going well.

Be forthcoming, proactive, and truthful. “Almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable,” says Yong. Racist policies, an overcrowded prison system, disparities in health care and the “decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net,” were just some of the unaddressed issues that served as catalysts for destruction. Passiveness, neglect and denial can be detrimental. As PR practitioners, we must do the difficult work to proactively address any faults that may be at the heart of the brands we serve.

Trust in leadership is vital. Yong says, “During a pandemic, leaders must rally the public, tell the truth, and speak clearly and consistently.” Honesty, transparency and visibility are key to fostering trust in leadership and should be the standard for any executive or other expert voice that speaks on behalf of your organization.

There’s always truth in science. Yong credits science-minded leaders who acted early as a reason that other countries fared better than the U.S. against COVID-19 early on. At Spectrum Science where our motto is to go Beyond the Science Quo, we understand that even in the face of detractors, myths or challenging circumstances, whether looking back or looking ahead, we must look to science so that the stories we tell are grounded in truth.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Cherise Adkins, VP of Media.

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