In the face of an epidemic, one of the biggest risks we face is fear. As a former federal public health expert told me recently: “Fear travels faster than the disease and can kill more than the disease.” Without frequent, accurate sharing of critical information, communities are vulnerable to uncertainty and lack of clarity about how to best care for themselves and their neighbors. For this reason, Governor Scott’s administration must immediately begin daily public updates on the status of the developing coronavirus situation and the state’s response to ensure that escalating public concern about the potential economic and health impact of the coronavirus is adequately addressed.
Fighting a virus is not a partisan issue: every citizen is dependent on effective and competent leadership to fight pandemics. This is a time to pull together and to make sure the public is informed.
Immediately, starting with today’s scheduled press conference at 5:00 PM—the first in 5 days—the Governor must provide daily updates on the status of the virus, the capacity of our health system to respond, and the state’s emerging response. Consistent and frequent communication is critical to the integrity of the state’s public health response and to preventing the spread of rumors and unfounded fears.
- Given the decentralized nature of delivery of state services, the Governor’s secretaries must provide daily updates to their stakeholders. Frequent updates also enable rapid and expedited sharing of emerging information and effective responses.
- State coordination must ensure that the state speaks with one voice across sectors. For example, lack of coordination by AHS and AOE on guidance for pre-kindergartens resulted in inconsistent guidance and ambiguity about the conditions under which pre-kindergartens should close.
- The Governor must use his podium to effectively educate the public on its role in slowing and delaying the spread of the virus. And, the Governor needs to make clear where individuals should go if they suspect they need to be tested for COVID-19, so that the shared capacity of our primary care providers and hospitals is used effectively.
There public can help support our local public health leaders and our medical practitioners as they work to keep us and our neighbors safe.
- Reduce your risk by washing your hands frequently and keeping yourself away from others if and when you are sick.
- Follow any guidance released by our state’s public health officials. Check the Vermont Department of Health website. The VDH has the most comprehensive and complete information in the state on the emerging status of COVID-19 statewide and our public health response. And again, follow any recommendations related to delaying, slowing and reducing the spread of the virus.
- Make sure your immunizations are up to date. When the public is broadly immunized against serious and preventable diseases, including influenza and measles, we reduce the demand on our health system at a time when extra capacity is critical.
- Avoid hoarding of supplies, which can needlessly create its own risks and harm.
- Our hospitals are preparing for patients who need care, but people who have only mild symptoms should first consult their primary care doctor and avoid going to the hospital, where they might be exposed to more serious sickness.
Finally, we must be willing to hold the President accountable for his mismanagement our nation’s response. Let’s be clear:
- We are at greater risk today because of a series of bad decisions by the Trump administration, including cuts to our capacity to anticipate and respond to pandemics.
- Once the virus surfaced, the Trump administration’s response has been inconsistent and ineffective.
- The President has made a series of incorrect and misleading statements about the virus, the response, and about possible vaccines, all which serve to erode public trust (or provoke fear).
- The President cut positions related to pandemic preparedness and disease surveillance from budgets, leaving him poorly prepared to respond. The preparation starting now should have begun 6-8 weeks ago.
Once again, this epidemic reaffirms the critical importance of effective state public health efforts to keep people safe.
We also must directly confront an additional risk: The President’s confused messaging may increase public fear. Fear is real, but we can’t let it cloud our response.
Thank you to all of the Vermonters who are standing up in this time of uncertainty to care for their families and communities.