How Do We Cut Through COVID Fatigue This Winter?

There is absolutely no doubt that we are tired of COVID-19. After three long years of lockdowns, political wrangling, physical distancing, and nightly virus statistics, all of us would like nothing more than to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. But COVID-related hospitalizations are climbing and deaths have started to inch up as well. How can healthcare organizations, public health authorities, governments, and concerned citizens cut through the wall of COVID fatigue?

Current Situation

Scientists and epidemiologists are not expecting a huge wave of COVID-19 over the fall and winter IF vaccine-booster campaigns are successful and if new variants do not emerge. That’s a lot of “ifs” and there is trouble on the horizon.

According to experts, there are signs that Omicron is “evolving and spawning a new generation of immunity-dodging variants”. Also, the uptake of the bi-valent boosters that target both the SARS-CoV-2 strain and Omicron is slower than expected. It is unclear how well this booster will protect against emerging variants.

Despite this, the chance of a large wave of hospitalizations, like what we experienced in 2020, is low. Much of the population has been vaccinated or has already recovered from COVID-19 which should mean the impact is muted.

Cutting Through the Fatigue

Regardless of whether we are headed for a big wave or not, healthcare organizations and health authorities have a communication challenge this fall and winter. How will they get the attention of the public? How will they motivate people who are so tired of this pandemic to take the necessary action to stay safe?

Here in Ontario, there have already been a few epidemiologists and public health officials who have suggested that a return to mask mandates in large congregate settings (concerts, public transit, etc) maybe necessary to keep our already-stressed healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed.

This story, which should have caused some outrage, has barely moved the needle of public attention. That’s concerning to me. It signals that the public is just tuning out COVID-19 talk.

So how we cut through?

I have a few unconventional ideas:

  • Use humor to poke fun at COVID fatigue and after getting a laugh, deliver the serious message
  • Resurrect old memes and troupes to deliver COVID messages. We love nostalgia and public health should leverage it. Imagine a campaign around “This is you. And this is you with the COVID booster” – as a throwback to the War on Drugs campaign
  • Resort to bribery but with things that inflation has severely impacted…like gas cards, free groceries, or even a new car that has a long waiting list

Join the next weekly HCLDR tweetchat on Tuesday October 25th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) where we will be discussing the following questions:

  • Q1 How do you react to COVID-19 news and announcements right now? Is your reaction similar to those around you?
  • Q2 What COVID-19 warning signs, if any, are you looking out for this fall/winter and what are you going to do?
  • Q3 What ideas do you have for public health authorities and healthcare organizations to cut through COVID-19 fatigue?
  • Q4 Are there any moments in history or other examples that we can draw from that might help us in our 3rd year of dealing with COVID-19 (ie: Climate Change, Smoking, Seat Belts)?

References

Callaway, Ewen. “Will there be a COVID winter wave? What scientists say”, Nature, 3 October 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03157-x, accessed 25 October 2022.

D’Mello, Colin and Callan, Issac. “Ontario’s top doctor urges mask wearing, warns mandate could return”, Global News, 13 October 2022, https://globalnews.ca/news/9196496/ontario-covid-19-kieran-moore-booster-masks/, accessed 25 October 2022.

Sofija, Ernesta and Bernard, Natalie Reyes. “We’re sick of COVID. So government messaging needs to change if it’s to cut through”, The Conversation, 9 September 2021, https://theconversation.com/were-sick-of-covid-so-government-messaging-needs-to-change-if-its-to-cut-through-166891, accessed 25 October 2022.

Dubois, Stephanie. “Vaccine fatigue is real. These experts say messaging on COVID boosters should be clear”, CBC, 23 August 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/vaccine-fatigue-is-real-these-experts-say-messaging-on-covid-boosters-should-be-clear-1.6558559, accessed 25 October 2022.

Image Credit

Photo by Anna Shvets: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-sitting-on-luggage-3943882/

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