Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Where are our leaders?

I’d like to know why aren’t public health communicators and political leadership engaging the public in the larger discussions of what the future might look like? Honestly, it baffles me.

There are a few things we know.: We know that Covid-19 will continue to mutate. And that after Delta and Omicron, and additional mutations named as letters of the Greek alphabet, we will be facing waves and waves of variants.

Something I read in one place (and I cannot confirm separately) is that variants of viruses tend to be progressively more contagious and less severe. If this is true – and a discussion led by public health and political leaders could educate us on this and other points – then we could talk about how to deal with it. In a big picture world, shouldn’t we be talking about how aggressively to pursue vaccination thresholds (my unscientific reaction to the news is anything less than 90% will not cut it), how boosters will continue to be a part of our lives for the next few years (is there any way to predict if they are needed every six months or year?), how masking must continue to be a part of public behavior for the next few years, etc.

If this presumption is not true – that the trend for increased transmissibility and decreased severity is not a likely path – then where are the conversations about what that means as well? I’ve heard argued that since both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread Covid-19, there is not necessarily from a transmissibility standpoint, an incentive for people to get jabbed. But what if the less severe cases people get if they are vaccinated translates into less time that they can transmit the virus to others, even within their own households? Either way, shouldn’t public health officials be discussing more frequently, more loudly, and more specifically geared towards variants, why it is in a person’s own interest to be vaccinated? Those who do not care about overtaxing the hospitals or who believe they are invincible may care about their closest relatives.

If the public is only concerned with the current variant – and this one is spreading fast, multiplying “about 70 times faster inside human respiratory tract tissue than the delta variant does,” – and is not prepared for the inevitable future variants, their fatigue over masks, distancing, and this changed life we lead, will impact their decision-making. But if we start hearing leaders talk about what the next few years might look like, there might be less resistance along the way.

One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve worked in communications over the years is if information is not shared (and this includes saying “I don’t know” when the data is not yet there), then expectations cannot be managed. And people without guiding information will fill in the gaps on their own.

The public deserves regular updates, not only about what is going on today (as the White House’s Covid-19 Response Team with public health officials share at press briefings which the media doesn’t cover enough), but what about tomorrow and the next day and the next?. I personally would like to see press conferences on a regular basis, be they daily or weekly, where senior leaders from the White House, the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and even from Departments of Labor, Commerce, Education, come together to explain not just where we are now, but where we are going, what we know now and what we will have to wait on more data to figure out. What is the big picture? What will 2022 look like? What could 2023 look like?

It is time for leaders to lead. To manage expectations. To share what they do and do not know, not only in reaction to the variant-of-the-day, but in terms of how they see the next few years playing out. And if they themselves have not taken up this discussion amongst themselves, then it is long overdue. (And if this is the case, I myself would also like an explanation of why these conversations have not taken place.)

What it all boils down to is that a plan – even with some gaps – is a far better thing that no plan at all. Especially in a world with so many unknowns.

Wishing everyone good health.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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