I am one of three doctors in my local Borough (Calderdale), who has volunteered to lead training sessions with members of the public about the pandemic. Local public health departments across the country, have started programmes of public education, including school children and young people. We know that people trust people they know, better than some other sources so a better-informed public spread the word.
Members of the public can volunteer to be COVID Champions -they participate in training sessions which explain what the virus is, how it is transmitted and what can be done to reduce transmission. Better understanding of the purpose behind rules helps with compliance as well as an emphasis on looking out for each other, social solidarity and respect. These Champions can then spread the word in any way they wish, talking to friends and family, or any social groups they belong too, using social media, etc and countering ill-informed statements. They will be better informed and able to explain why the rules are necessary. And how the vaccination programme will help us deal with the pandemic.
The public joining the sessions have been a cross section of ages and ethnicity – each zoom meeting has about 8 participants. They receive an information pack and can join drop-in sessions later if they have queries. The questions from the public have been searching – how to persuade the young that it matters, when they are unlikely to get really sick (that needs an understanding that the train of transmission could lead to someone else’s severe illness or death), why should people who are healthy have to be curtailed in order to protect the old, and those with chronic conditions, why not just shield those. (Over 15 million people live with a chronic condition, as well as many families having older members, so you are highly likely to know and care about someone who is more vulnerable)
Obviously, at the moment we are currently living under a lot of restrictions- just increased with the latest lockdown. There are rules we must follow, some regulated in law. The public health message is stay at home as much as possible, limit social contacts, keep 2 metres away from people not in your household, wear a face mask in public places where there are other people, wash your hand regularly and if indoors with other people not in your household keep rooms well ventilated with the windows open.
These rules and guidance are intended to alter people’s behaviour, to stop the transmission of the virus. The vaccine will increase immunity in the population but will take time to roll out and we still need social restrictions in the meantime, and possibly for longer in the future. Our behaviour has to be modified if we are to prevent more people becoming ill and potentially dying. We also have to prevent people being ill and having longer term symptoms after initial recovery -so called Long Covid.
The question is how do you persuade people to cooperate with the rules and guidance.? Most people do, but not everyone. Of course, guidance and rules need to be clear ,which is not always the case but by emphasising the part each of us can play, we may get better results.
This sort of “seeding “of better information is perhaps rather late in the day, but better than nothing. We need all the tools we can muster to get through this emergency. Linda Patterson