A sense of urgency is vital to cope with COVID-19

Concerted and acute action must continue to be implemented if the U.S. is to avoid what happened in Italy – and communicators are crucial in getting these messages across.

The Italian health system has been pushed beyond its limits by the coronavirus. (Photo credit: Getty Images.)

If America woke up to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic last week, then the federal government and state authorities really stepped up their game this week in response to the crisis.

And they needed to.

The U.S. Labor Department said yesterday that more Americans filed for unemployment last week than at any time in the last two years. Analysts predict more than 2 million Americans will be added to the total by next week, with Goldman Sachs calling it "an unprecedented surge in layoffs."

Senate Republicans unveiled their “phase 3” $1 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package Thursday afternoon, including direct payments to Americans, loans for airlines and companies in other struggling industry sectors and forgivable bridge loans for small businesses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced New York State will move to a PAUSE situation from Sunday, placing increased restrictions on movement and behavior, especially for vulnerable groups, under Policies that Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone

Looking globally, it’s incredible to see the statistics for COVID-19-related deaths in Italy overtake the equivalent numbers in China, which previously had the highest number of deaths than any other nation. Even taking into account the fact that the official Chinese death numbers are probably significantly underreported, Italy’s population is around 5% the size of China.

The death count is also soaring in Spain, France and Germany, which is why what I see on my Facebook and other social media feeds is really puzzling to me as regards the United Kingdom. While most people are now working from home in the U.K. and transport networks are being scaled down, bars and restaurants are still open and many British citizens are adopting a devil-may-care attitude to the situation.

A family member yesterday posted a picture of himself and a friend in his local Irish pub, with a pint of Guinness perched on the bar next to a container of hand sanitizer. Further south, in London, some friends appeared to have had a very pleasant lunch in a Michelin Two Star restaurant, followed by a trip to the pub for a few liveners afterwards.

This is not exactly what could be described as social distancing in action and the sense of urgency over there clearly hasn’t fully ramped up yet, despite 139 Brits already having died from COVID-19.

On the positive side, it was encouraging to see the number of reported coronavirus cases in South Korea and China finally starting to drop, although this is no time for complacency and many medical experts expect there to be a second wave to the pandemic. But in these uncertain times it at least provides hope that there’s an end to this unprecedented tunnel.

It might seem inappropriate to talk about PR work in this environment, but actually I believe communications has a vital role to play on a number of levels and can contribute significantly in a positive manner. There are many, many examples of pro-social or community-oriented campaigns and activations being launched by brands and organizations with support from their agencies.

This could be Edelman supporting Dove in encouraging people to wash their hands effectively, Fenton helping Johnson & Johnson respond to COVID-19 internationally or Walmart starting up parking lot virus testing.

PR firms seem preprogrammed to not want to shout about their work, especially at delicate times like this. But there’s nothing wrong in raising awareness of worthy work, although obviously it has to be done in an appropriate and sensitive way.  

On a more mundane day-to-day basis, PRWeek’s Diana Bradley wrote a great piece about the reality of working from home, especially when children and home-schooling are thrown into the mix. It seems you are all evolving strategies to cope with unexpected interruptions of Google Hangouts and work calls. As a mom, Diana is juggling these priorities herself, so knows exactly what it’s like to be #WFHWK.

Difficult though these new realities of work are, the temporary hardship will be worth it if we can minimize the oncoming impact of COVID-19 and keep as many people safe and healthy as possible.

On a personal level, being based in New York City makes these measures even more apposite, given that the heat maps published in the media show NYC appears to be morphing into becoming the national coronavirus hotspot for the U.S.

The real heroes in this equation are the healthcare workers laboring around the clock to treat patients afflicted by coronavirus and the unsung stalwarts ensuring the garbage is collected, packages are delivered and shops stay open to provide us with food and essential items. Then there are the cleaning and janitorial crews, transit and airline workers and, of course, all emergency services and first responders.

Please stay safe out there and try to stay positive in these difficult times. We’ll get through this.

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