Effective public health communication is the first threshold in preventing widespread illness during the pandemic to ensure those at risk remain safe and those who are less at risk understand their role in protecting them. Effective communication was challenged with the novelty of the virus, providing for an ever-changing plethora of knowledge from various established sources, making conclusive information relay difficult and understand by the general populace.
However, the initial distribution of information surrounding COVID-19 was delayed in countries such as the UK and USA; the information provided was infrequent and ever-evolving when it concerned public responsibilities such as the impact of mask-wearing and social distancing. Lack of standardized information provided a lack of understanding of the virus’s complexity, transmission, and prevention methods. A lack of acknowledgment and transparency of uncertainty and mistakes, visible to the public and unspoken by public health intuitions and their adjacent government bodies contributed to the shortfall of a lack of transparency. This absence of transparency leads to a lack of public health authorities’ trust and decreases future public health communication effectiveness as well as the credibility and legitimacy of disseminated information, decreasing a common consensus in what must be done and by whom.
A lack of community targeting further emphasized this uncertainty, as information distributed was broad, not accounting for language and cultural barriers. The ever-changing public health information is not updated by regional and local authorities in the 80+ languages that are used throughout the UK. When information is translated, it has shown to take weeks in which health actions and information may have already changed.
Furthermore, the lack of initial action plans and linkage to societal values impacted the initial reaction to prevention methods, creating a divided population. Some understood preventative methods, and others remain unsure and skeptical.