How Local Governments Can Lead the Front Line in the Battle Against Pandemic Fatigue

For many state and local governments, the financial impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has so far been cushioned by federal aid. However, as the pandemic continues to spread and federal aid dries up, the likelihood is some jurisdictions will face significant budget shortfalls. The solution to prevent budget shortfalls is to prevent the spread of the pandemic. But how?

In September, the Brookings Institution published an article asking “How much is COVID-19 hurting state and local revenues?”. The conclusion was that the pandemic is not hurting revenues too badly at the minute due to CARES Act funding, unemployment insurance relief, and the Paycheck Protection Program; but this is likely to change as the pandemic continues and stimuli packages end.

Over the next few years, state and local government finances are projected to experience declining sales tax revenues (up to 18%) and income tax revenues (up to 9%) as economies struggle to recover from the consequences of the pandemic. Income from corporation taxes, highway tolls, and public recreation venues is also projected to fall while the pandemic continues: and, if the property market experiences a downturn due to the recession, this too will have an impact on revenues.

Related Blog: CARES Act Funding for Municipalities - Where's the Money Going?

At the same time as revenues are projected to decline, local government expenses are projected to increase. While the pandemic continues, demands will be made on state and local government finances to support remote learning in schools, increase mental health services in the community, and provide care services for an increasingly vulnerable elderly population. As the Brooking Institution article states “pre-COVID levels of spending may not be enough”.

The Options for State and Local Governments

The options for state and local governments are limited. CARES Act funding will come to an end in December, unemployment insurance relief currently runs until March 2021, and the Paycheck Protection Program has already finished. Therefore, not only will state and local governments stop receiving federal funding, there will be less money in the community to stimulate a recovery.

Raising taxes will not only be unpopular, but also impractical. Taking money out of the community to fund essential services will reduce the purchasing power of individuals and further reduce sales tax revenues. Furthermore, forty-four states and the District of Columbia have statutes in their constitutions that prohibit inflation-busting tax increases.

Related Blog: How Cross-State Communications And Partnerships Can Help During  COVID-19 And Beyond

That leaves relying on the federal government for further funding (while possible, it's not likely to be enough or continue indefinitely), cutting spending (unlikely considering the demands on finances mentioned above), or hoping the pandemic ends sooner rather than later so economies can recover sooner rather than later. However, with regards to the final option, it could be years before every citizen is able – or willing – to get vaccinated against the coronavirus COVID-19 virus.

Preventing the Spread of the Pandemic

shutterstock_1677749770In April, it was suggested the pandemic could be over by the summer due to increased temperatures reducing the lifecycle of the virus lifecycle. Unfortunately, like so many glimmers of hope since, the science was flawed. While the warmer weather may have contributed to a decline in cases in the north, the opposite occurred in south; where, in July, the average number of cases per 100,000 residents in Imperial County, Ca. peaked at 836. It is currently 29 cases per 100,000 residents

The spread of the pandemic in Imperial County was prevented by lockdown restrictions, aggressive testing, and contact tracing. Many other communities around the country also experienced lockdown restrictions; yet, as soon as the restrictions were eased, the virus returned. Public health experts are predicting that without further restrictions the pandemic may continue for another year and be more devastating than before; exacerbating the financial impact for local governments.

Further lockdowns – even the hyperlocal lockdowns being suggested in some jurisdictions – are unlikely to be as effective as earlier in the year in preventing the spread of the pandemic. It has been estimated that 70% of people were compliant with the mitigation measures imposed during the first wave of the pandemic; but many people have grown tired of making sacrifices or have become complacent about wearing a mask, washing their hands, or maintaining social distancing.

The Genuine Risk from Pandemic Fatigue

At the end of October, conversation.com published an excellent article entitled “Sick of COVID-19?” The article explains that following mitigation measures is becoming more challenging for people because, whereas in April there was a fear of the unknown, people have become more accustomed to the “new normal”. More importantly, the article states, individuals' perceived susceptibility to the virus – and the consequences of being infected - has reduced significantly.

When reduced perceived susceptibility coincides with the easing of lockdown restrictions - and places such as bars and restaurants are perceived to be safe – individuals engage in what the article calls “risky behaviors”. As soon as a few individuals start socializing without masks or skipping the physical distancing, these risky behaviors develop into social norms, which are then adopted by the rest of the community with – initially – no negative consequences.

This sequence of events makes it difficult for state and local governments to enforce subsequent lockdowns. As we have seen in Europe, a smaller percentage of people comply with mitigation measures, and the pandemic continues to spread. Therefore, in order to prevent the pandemic spreading, state and local governments need to combat pandemic fatigue and create an environment in which there is a community effort to stop the pandemic spreading.

How Local Governments Can Combat Pandemic Fatigue

One of the reasons pandemic fatigue has developed to such a great extent is that there have been too many false glimmers of hope, too many mixed messages, and too much misinformation – so much so that many people have stopped following the news. So, how is it possible to communicate accurate information that people will engage with so they become more COVID aware?

Related Blog: Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 Misinformation

One solution used in business and education to overcome communication challenges is to gamify the challenge. While the pandemic is no game, gamification is proven to create a desire to learn, drive engagement, and provide a vehicle for feedback. Furthermore, gamification can help overcome the biggest hurdle to communicating information about COVID-19 – pandemic fatigue.

The way in which local governments can gamify communications is to implement a mass notification system with a geo-polling module. The geo-polling module is used to send bulk text messages in a question and answer format. Recipients answer the questions by tapping a key on their cellphone and then receive a second text message informing them whether they are correct or not. The second text message can also contain links to further information about the questions asked.

Example COVID-19 Q&As

If you feel the concept is too simple, or that not enough of the community will engage with the Q&As to make a difference, try these example COVID-19 Q&As to test your own knowledge and make a mental note about how many times you mention one or more of the answers to a family member, friend, or colleague. You might be surprised how quickly accurate news can spread!

Each Q&A is a pair of text messages. The first message is the question and choice of answers. The second message is either a “Congratulations – you got the answer correct” message or a “Better luck next time” message with a link to further information about the nature of the question and a request to share the Q&A with a friend “to see if they could do any better”.

text alert mobile phoneQ&A #1 – Text 1

  1. How long can the COVID-19 virus survive on an uncleaned surface?

A1 – Up to one day

A2 – Up to one week

A3 – Up to two weeks

A4 – More than two weeks

Q&A #1 – Text 2 (For people who gave the correct answer – A4)

Congratulations – you gave the correct answer. In February, tests done on the Diamond Princess cruise ship found active pathogens of COVID-19 on a variety of surfaces seventeen days after the cabins had been vacated. See the CDC's report for more information.

Think you have friends as smart as you? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Q&A #1 – Text 2 (For people who gave any other answer)

Unfortunately, you gave the wrong answer. The correct answer is that the COVID-19 virus can survive on an uncleaned surface for more than two weeks. See the CDC's report about how long pathogens of the virus can survive on surfaces and better luck next time.

Think any of your friends could answer the question correctly? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Q&A #2 – Text 1

  1. When is it safe to enter an unventilated room (unmasked) after an infected person has been in it?

A1 - One hour later

A2 - Three hours later

A3 – Six hours later

A4 – More than twelve hours later

Q&A #2 – Text 2 (For people who gave the correct answer – A4)

Congratulations – you gave the correct answer. In an experiment conducted by the Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, infectious aerosols of the COVID-19 virus were found suspended in the air after sixteen hours. See the CDC's report for more information.

Think you have friends as smart as you? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Q&A #2 – Text 2 (For people who gave any other answer)

Unfortunately, you gave the wrong answer. The correct answer is that infectious aerosols of the COVID-19 virus can remain suspended in the air of an unventilated room for up to sixteen hours. You can find out more about COVID aerosols in the CDC's report.

Think any of your friends could answer the question correctly? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Q&A #3 – Text 1

  1. How far away should you be from another person if both you and they are not wearing masks?

A1 – Six feet

A2 – Twelve feet

A3 – Twenty feet

A4 – More than forty feet

Q&A #3 – Text 2 (For people who gave the correct answer – A4)

Congratulations – you gave the correct answer. The six feet “rule” is based on 19th century science as 52 people found out when they were infected after attending choir practice in Washington in March. See the CDCs report for more information.

Think you have friends as smart as you? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Q&A #3 – Text 2 (For people who gave any other answer)

Unfortunately, you gave the wrong answer. 52 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale – some as far as 42 feet away from the infected singer – contracted the virus after a 2½ hour rehearsal. You can find out more about community transmission in the CDCs report.

Think any of your friends could answer the question correctly? Forward this message to a friend and see what their answer is.

Related Blog: Overcoming Language Barriers for More Effective Contact Tracing

There are many different ways in which the questions and answers can be tailored to make them more relevant to local communities; and, for communities that have large non-English speaking populations, the mass notification system on which the module is deployed gives message recipients the choice of selecting from more than sixty languages.

It is also important to note that message recipients do not need to have the latest smartphone or download an app to receive the Q&A text messages. All questions and answers and follow-up texts are sent by SMS, which can be prepared and scheduled in advance to avoid state and local governments having to manually reply to every answer.

Further Uses of Geo-Polling during the Pandemic

As well as helping local governments combat pandemic fatigue, geo-polling modules can be used to check-in on vulnerable residents, manage remote workers, and help fill vacant shifts caused by employee sickness. The mass notification system itself can be used to alert communities to recent outbreaks, advise on testing, and support the work done by contract tracers.

It is also possible to configure the mass notification platform to receive tips by SMS text. This can be beneficial for local governments that have introduced hyperlocal lockdowns, as an anonymous tip texting service empowers citizens to be the eyes and ears of the community and report violations of stay-at-home orders or other events that may endanger the health of the community.

Compared to the other options available for local governments, a geo-polling module and a tip texting service could be effective ways to raise COVID awareness and combat pandemic fatigue. If the technologies help prevent the spread of the pandemic, economies will be able to recover quicker and threat of reducing revenues, increasing expenses, and budget shortfalls will be mitigated.

Universal - State and Local Coronavirus Recovery Solution

Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

Introducing Rave Collaborate for Tactical Incident Management

This central platform helps you manage your organization’s preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation needs.

Learn More Here>

Schedule a Free Consultation

Talk With An Expert

Discover our pre-packaged solutions or configure a package that's right for your business. Learn how you can be up and running in days, take advantage of unlimited usage, and benefit from unbeatable performance and customer satisfaction.