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What Does a Public Engagement Plan Look Like Post-COVID?

As everybody knows, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many unique challenges to the health and well-being of state and local governments and their communities across the United States, and globally. To avoid a spike in serious illnesses and deaths, states and territories have turned to strict social distancing measures to help slow the spread of the virus in the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine. Government leaders have done a good job with notifying the public and keeping residents updated on the measures being taken, and the gradual reopening of businesses where there are noticeably lower cases of COVID-19.

Developing and implementing a strong and clear communication and public engagement plan is key as states begin planning for longer term economic recovery. State and local leaders will have to make critical decisions when determining when, where, and how to gradually resume economic activities and when social distancing or other mitigation measures may need to be adjusted or reinstated, according to the National Governor Association’s (NGA) Roadmap to Recovery Report. Clearly communicating with businesses and the public will be essential to reducing the risk of further outbreaks.  

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Creating a Strong Public Engagement Plan Post-COVID 

Until there is a treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus, it’s hard to imagine when life will seem to go back to ‘normal’. With that being said, as states move through the reopening phases, communication with the community will be more important than ever. There could be a risk for confusion, misunderstanding, or protest by people who may believe that the pace of reopening should be either slowed down or sped up. For this reason, clearly and concisely communicating with the public will always be of paramount importance, which is where a strong public engagement plan comes in.

Core Elements of Effective Communications in a Crisis

According to the CDC’s guide to communication in a public health crisis and the NGA’s Report, critical elements of effective communications include timeliness, accuracy, and credibility. Being timely and accurate when addressing the community, whether during a press conference or through mass notifications, lets the public know that state and local governments are making a conscious effort to keep the public engaged. Being transparent and releasing accurate data with the support of healthcare and public health leaders will help foster credibility within the community.

The NGA’s Report notes that Governors have found success with regular briefings with public health officials to review a consistent set of metrics, describe key challenges candidly, explain what is being done to address these challenges, and, most importantly, provide room for hope. Essentially, leaders want the public to know that they’re doing everything they can, and every step taken is to protect citizens.

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Addressing the public through frequent press conferences is highly recommended by the NGA’s Report and following up these press conferences with mass notifications sent to the community can assist in getting the message out there, as not everybody can tune into these press announcements. Until there is a vaccine or treatment, keeping up with regular addresses with the public and sending out frequent updates through communication technology will remain extremely important.

In a post-COVID world, it’s likely communicating and being transparent with communities on any public health or safety concerns will still be important, especially with the many disruptions the virus will have caused to the economy, vulnerable populations, and more. Right now, it’s too early to predict whether COVID-19 will persist as a pandemic next year, and experts believe that with preventative behaviors the pandemic can be shortened.

Best Practices for Public Engagement

The NGA’s Report recommends that special efforts should be made to reach and engage with at-risk communities, young people, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with access and functional needs, and those who may have less access through formal channels. The report also suggests reaching those who are working on the front lines of the pandemic, who are likely experiencing high levels of stress and uncertainty.

State and local leaders can do this by leveraging both their mass notification system, to send out targeted alerts and resources to specific groups of people, and their vulnerable needs registries, to identify at-risk citizens who may require extra support and assistance throughout the pandemic. Reaching these individuals with targeted communications can again instill confidence in what governments are doing to address COVID-19, but also provide essential information and resources to potentially save a life.

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The New Digital World – Technology Can Help 

It’s become clear how important technology has been in many facets of the coronavirus pandemic. With schools and universities conducting classes online, businesses working remotely where they can, and citizens using 3D printing and other tools to help support frontline works, technology has worked in different ways to support the needs of communities across the country. The technology doesn’t stop there, with state and local governments relying on comprehensive communication platforms, digital vulnerable needs databases, public safety profiles, and contact tracing applications to help with combatting and slowing the spread of the virus.

When there is an end of this pandemic in sight, state and local leaders will still need to engage with the public and can utilize the tools leveraged during the COVID-19 era. By being prepared for another outbreak, or another public health or safety emergency, governments have the technologies, tools and public engagement plans in place to keep citizens safe.

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 education, 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!

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