Don’t shoot the messenger, they say, but as a society, right now we have loaded up our quivers and have taken aim at public health. Nationally this plays out in scads of social media-driven misinformation regarding coronavirus — that it’s no worse than the flu (which is itself pretty bad), that masks are an infringement on liberty, that Democrats are using the pandemic to win an election.
Locally some of our elected leaders have taken up these misleading and erroneous messages, politicizing a virus on their Facebook pages and last week calling out Walla Walla County’s community health administrator, Meghan DeBolt, for bringing attention to group events that exposed many people to COVID.
More than a dozen of those party attendees contracted the virus. It remains to be seen who may pass away from that exposure, but in any case, Ms. DeBolt was absolutely doing her duty to warn the rest of us that this is a dangerous practice.
In my professional life, I am used to delivering messages the general public might not want to hear.
It’s difficult to craft a simple, usable message about condom use or not sharing needles with a friend with whom you shoot drugs. We need to remember that not all messages about risky behavior (unsafe sex, driving while drunk, for examples) are meant for everybody.
Many public health messages target a specific group, so if something you hear doesn’t apply to you — as in, you’re not coordinating a large party this weekend—then feel free to let that message not be about you.
Prevention of disease is a complicated beast. I tell people it’s like ice skating — if you do it well, people think it’s easy. When folks are dying of preventable causes, in huge numbers like these (84,000 and counting, in just three months), we ask where the prevention is happening. Unfortunately for us, we lack adequate testing nationally and locally.
We need more contact tracers. We need millions more masks. According to the CDC, if 80% of us wore masks 100% of the time outside, we would squash COVID in a month and be able to manage it from there.
Yelling about public health’s attempts to get us to change behavior does not save lives; worse, it costs lives because it muddies prevention messages.
Don’t go to a party. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And you will save lives.