A failure to communicate? how public messaging has strained the COVID-19 response in the united states

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A pandemic, especially when caused by a novel virus, induces tremendous uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. To mitigate panic and encourage appropriate behavioral action, communication is critical. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) guidance is designed to assist public health authorities, government officials, and other stakeholders in using risk communication during an emergency. For each of the 6 core communication principles outlined in the CERC guidance, we describe the use or nonuse of these principles at critical points during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic by US public health and government officials. With the knowledge that the pandemic will continue to rage for some time and that new communication challenges will arise, including issues related to vaccination and treatment options, many lessons are to be learned and shared. To reduce fear and uncertainty among those living in the United States, COVID-19 communication should be rapid and accurate, while building credibility and trust and showcasing empathy - all with a unified voice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-74
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Security
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Infectious diseases
  • Pandemic response
  • Public health preparedness/response
  • Risk communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Safety Research
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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