Truth Amidst Crisis: Learnings From COVID-19

Last week, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. More than 175,000 people have been infected worldwide and, over the last several days throughout the United States, we’ve seen schools close, events cancelled and businesses transition to remote work or even shutter in an effort to bolster social distancing. But still the virus’ spread comes alongside an epidemic of misinformation transmitted by our leaders, the media and even ourselves. As we share the facts we’ve heard, read or seen someone else post online, the truth about a virus we are just beginning to understand continues to evolve. Simultaneously, we are lacking critical information about the extent of infection due to a lack of testing.

We find ourselves in a crucial moment where truth, and the choices we make based on it, matters more than ever. And as we all look around to find the sources of information we trust most, one voice seems to me to have emerged as the most trusted—Dr. Anthony Fauci, dubbed “explainer-in-chief of the coronavirus” by the New York Times.

While he is of course one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious disease, it is not Dr. Fauci’s expertise alone that has made him the pre-eminent, trusted voice in this conversation—but also his history of placing emphasis on the data, on his commitment to science and his willingness to speak truth regardless of social or political pressure. We read this as authenticity—and we know we can trust it.

Here’s why:

Not his first rodeo.

A veteran leader of multiple epidemics, including Ebola, SARS and HIV, Dr. Fauci is best known for his groundbreaking work to understand HIV/AIDS, the development and testing of antiretrovirals, ongoing research to prevent transmission of the disease and continuing to lead the charge to end the HIV epidemic. When he speaks on viral crises, it’s with authority.

Unafraid to speak truth to power.

Without reservation, Dr. Fauci has been willing to correct half-truths and set the record straight as political agendas lead others to downplay the potential severity of the crisis. What separates him from the pack most is his ability to do this without running to assign blame or point fingers.

Commitment to the greater good.

Dr. Fauci sticks to the facts and the data to provide the information that needs to be shared if we are to keep the virus from overwhelming our healthcare system. Unlike many of the others commenting on the current situation, he is able to correct the record without vilifying others. Over the weekend, he refused to be drawn into retroactive discussions of mistakes made and instead focused on what should be done now from a public health perspective. By staying the course and delivering his public messages within his area of expertise, he’s been able to continue to impact the direction of the crisis and shape public policy in the best interest of overall public health.

Dr. Fauci has not been the only voice speaking truth during this crisis, but his longstanding commitment to persevering on behalf of truth and data—as well as keeping doors open to all those who can help solve the most challenging issues of our time—leads us to think of him as the most trustworthy.

As Yascha Mounk points out in The Atlantic, past epidemics teach us that there are two ways to go in situations like these. We can carry on as usual, because that is what’s easiest. Or, though it may be unpopular, we can lead the way by taking proactive steps to protect the greater good. We are already seeing the impact of these choices on the speed and degree of spread in affected countries—and the coming weeks will be critical to the outcome for the United States. I hope that, like Dr. Fauci, leaders throughout our society, both those in positions of power and those who are not, will step up to help guide us in the right direction. #StayHome

But the learnings here go beyond viral crises. I have also been talking with my colleague and friend Michelle Strier about how the current situation, including Dr. Fauci’s role as a truthteller, has important lessons for us both as an industry and as communications counselors to our clients.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Jonathan Wilson, Owner and CEO. 

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