Here are the stories I’m tracking that I think others ought to notice. These are not necessarily the “top” stories but they are ones that I think are important for business, government and communications leaders to notice, based on my years as a medical reporter and as a healthcare executive.
The public needs to hear more about the ways medical professionals are learning more about COVID19 every day and adapting at a rapid pace. One of the reasons hospitals have managed ventilator supplies successfully is wider use of HFNC – “high flow nasal cannula.” This alternate way to deliver emergency oxygen does not require intubation, which poses considerable risk to healthcare providers. This technique is still risky, however, especially when the devices are disconnected.
A new study from one of the first places in Italy hard-hit by COVID19 bolsters the evidence for rampant contagion before symptoms appear. The good news: the town halted new infections rapidly by locking-down immediately after the first COVID19 death occurred.
The Association of Healthcare Journalistspublished a tip sheet warning members about reading too much into studies published in advance because they have not gone through full peer review yet. Both of the studies cited above are such pre-review releases.
As amusement parks in some places make plans to reopen soon, prepare for more bickering over numbers. Especially with the realization that some non-hospital deaths almost certainly are attributable to COVID19, a growing number of people both in government and elsewhere dispute what the actual number of COVID19 cases and deaths may be. These disputes may play prominent roles as anti-public health activists ramp up protests with advice from a Trump-supporting organization that was founded by the Koch Brothers.
Let’s try to keep politics out of the public health discussion as much as we can. I know that’s hard in the current environment, but it’s crucial. Here are some facts that should inform every organization’s communications and business planning in the coming weeks.
What’s important to know is that as of April 15, the FDA had given emergency clearance for 37 different tests to diagnose COVID19 infection. On Saturday, April 17, the FDA confirmed that serological tests to detect whether a person has antibodies to COVID19 (indicating prior exposure and potential immunity) may be used without FDA approval. In other words, if the manufacturer says the test works, they can start selling and using the tests. Four such tests have obtained Emergency Use Authorizations, even though that step is not being required.
Both types of tests are essential. Diagnostic tests are needed to identify who currently has a COVID19 infection and might be contagious. As treatment options emerge, these tests will also be important so that tests are given to patients who most need them. Antibody or serology tests will inform us how many people in our communities have been exposed to the COVID19 virus, among other details. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that the state is immediately starting a large study of randomly selected New Yorkers to estimate the statewide prevalence of COVID19 infection.
The challenge is that when any of these tests are done without a national standard, comparing results from one place to another becomes virtually impossible. Anyone who remembers the challenges involved with developing reliable tests to detect HIV knows the importance of consistent, reliable tests. We are already seeing results from other countries that are not holding up to further scrutiny, strongly suggesting that some of the tests that were used are unreliable. In the United Kingdom, government officials paid millions for antibody tests that turned out to be ineffective.
We need tests quickly, but we need accurate information in order to decide the best actions — whether those decisions are for public health or safety, business planning or our own individual benefit. Absent a national standard, health officials will have considerable difficulty making decisions for their own populations because they may not have good information from surrounding areas.
For business communicators, if your “return to work” plans include any kind of testing, be prepared to provide enough detail about how you have selected your tests, how they are being processed, and what the results are going to be used for.
Best practices include determining your metrics for “reopening” in advance so that you are not making decisions ad hoc. Among the questions to consider:
What rate of infection in your community will be the trigger for your operations resuming?
If business resumes and the infection rate in the community goes back up, what will you do?
What are your procedures for keeping potentially infected individuals from your workplaces? If you are going to do temperature checks, how will those be conducted? What will be done to assure that every individual entering a facility is checked?
If your business resumes and one of your employees develops COVID19, what is your protocol?
For more articles like this, visit PublicSafetyPress.com/COVID19 or find me on LinkedIn. To purchase The Communications Handbook for Coronavirus, visit your favorite bookseller’s website or BN.com. The ebook version is also available directly from Public Safety Press.
Veteran health communicator Doug Levy shows how to apply best practices from 30+ years of experience to the latest health emergency, including checklists and worksheets to help both public and private sector communicators and guidance on effective communications in an era of "alternate facts," based on the Communications Golden Hour® framework.