A year ago tomorrow, I sat in a conference room at Haymarket Media’s offices. We’d just spent 35 minutes finalizing our involvement in the health track at SXSW, a discussion that spanned the professional (partnerships/editorial coverage) and the somewhat less so (brisket/beverages/bands). The general mood was positive and energetic, despite concerns about the mysterious virus that had just made its way to these shores.
Within two minutes of returning to our desks, the call went out across the newsroom: SXSW had been canceled. The inevitability of the decision didn’t make it any less disappointing. We packed up our bags for the night and said our goodbyes, then made our way into packed trains and buses.
At home, of course, the SXSW cancellation played somewhat differently: No business trip for Daddy! Yay! We hit Dairy Queen after dinner and the kids were sugar-wired long past bedtime.
That, in retrospect, was my last “normal” moment. I hope your last pre-pandemic outing fills you with similarly warm memories, as well as a determination to return to that very same place. We’ll get there, man.
This week’s Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing is 1,922 words and will take you eight minutes to read.
The forks in the road
Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from way back when? With the slackening of mask mandates and other protective measures, it feels like we have a lot of individual agency in the arc of the next few months.
- Recent polling from unofficial Coronavirus Briefing pollster CivicScience reveals that Johnson & Johnson’s recent entry is the belle of the vaccine ball: 23% of respondents said they’d receive it if given the option, versus 19% for Pfizer’s shot and 14% for Moderna’s. Count me as one of the 44% who have no preference – hell, give me the AstraZeneca/Oxford one, imminent FDA approval or no. Other CivicScience findings this week: We’re the most ready we’ve been in a year to take to the skies and we (by “we,” I mean “people who aren’t me”) are increasingly OK with natural deodorants.
- PRWeek’s Diana Bradley finds the sadness and unintended humor in the reactions of 13 Texas businesses to the state’s decision to lift its mask mandate.
- Not enough has been made of the fact that we have TKO’d flu season. More evidence: Last year, the flu claimed the lives of 200 children. This year, it claimed just one. Perhaps this is a sign that masking and social distancing work?
- In McKnight’s Senior Living, Kimberly Bonvissuto notes that industry leaders believe the pandemic will ultimately create an improved senior living product.
- Campaign’s Lalita Salgaokar surveys the state of the working-from-home union one year after the start of shutdown. Her verdict: creatives are doing better than most would’ve expected.
- Former President Trump could do an awful lot to bolster vaccine acceptance among skeptical audiences.
- “Covid-19 Cases Are Dropping. What Comes Next?” It’s not the answer you want to hear, which presumably involves fireworks and sing-alongs.
- Our next opportunity to screw up the COVID recovery could come in the form of subpar analysis of vaccine effectiveness data. Without pooling the data, we’ll likely come up with misleading answers to questions around duration of protection and effectiveness against variants. Given our track record on just about everything related to the pandemic, I’m not optimistic we’ll stick this landing.
- Twitter has extended its disciplinary system, which appears to be “five strikes and you’re out, unless you aren’t,” to misinformation around COVID-19 and vaccines.
The Takeaway: We’re at yet another inflection point. Please act responsibly.
The red lights
Some flash more urgently than others, but we’re still far away from yellow or green territory.
- McKnight’s Long-Term Care News’ Danielle Brown looks back at the “most difficult year in history” for the long-term care sector. The current death toll is 171,000 nursing home residents and caregivers. If that number doesn’t make you queasy, I don’t know what will.
- Remember when retail security guards mostly served as sentient theft and hooliganism deterrents? Now they’re the de facto mask police, and it’s an impossible – and hazardous – gig.
- A lot of people, myself included, take their affiliation with a physician group or hospital system for granted. Those without a provider network are having a hard time – well, an even harder time – navigating the vaccination process. At what point do we blow the system up and start from scratch?
- The COVID-19 relief bill passed this week by the U.S. House of Representatives skimps on support for seniors and caregivers, Joe Jancsurak reports in McKnight’s Home Care Daily.
- The recent wave of stories about COVID-related “baby busts”… I’m not one to read too deeply into things, but all the references to “advanced economies” and “highly developed countries” send a different message than perhaps was intended.
- “The shutdown dried up their work. Now mariachis are busy playing COVID funerals.” The ripple effects of COVID hit you in from so many different angles that it’s almost disorienting.
- A drive-thru coronavirus testing center in the Netherlands was targeted by a homemade bomb, though nobody was hurt. This is the most desperate timeline.
- Wash the bad taste from the last few items out of your mouth with this.
The Takeaway: Let’s not let the good news – as a mental health balm, I seek out footage of newly vaccinated individuals every morning – blunt the enormity of the bad. 2,350 people died on Wednesday from COVID. We won’t be in look-back territory for quite some time.
That it’s hard to miss is a great sign. Now, let’s do a better job calibrating it.
- MM+M’s Marc Iskowitz analyzes the tonality of vaccine-related messaging. We’re doing it more right than we were a few months ago, but still frustratingly wrong. The note that needs to be sounded again and again and again: Vaccines work. They work they work they work. They. Work.
- The brilliant Zeynep Tufekci flags 5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Making. Those who do not learn from history, etc.
- Podcasters have been all over the pandemic since its earliest months.
- The Tuskegee Study will forever remain one of our great national shames, but it isn’t among the top reasons Black Americans are skeptical about receiving COVID vaccines.
- In PRWeek, Aleda Stam goes deep on New York Women in Communications’ #WomenHeard campaign, designed to address the departure of women from the workforce during COVID-19.
- In MM+M, Kerri Reeves assesses how medical device marketers have evolved their approaches for a post-COVID future.
- Also in MM+M, Lecia Bushak unpacks Socialbakers’ 2020 report on healthcare and social media, which found that pharma companies have been perceived as “problem solvers” during the pandemic.
- Covaxin, a much-criticized vaccine developed in India, is safe and effective. At this point, it’d be almost jarring to hear that a vaccine doesn’t work.
- U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona outlines his five-point plan to get students back to school full-time. Unrelated: 28 minutes ago, my kids’ district announced that it is expanding to four hours per day in the classroom at the end of the month. In the absence of work colleagues to high-five, I just knocked myself out head-butting the wall.
The Takeaway: Communicators, marketers and advocates have had a solid first two months of the year. Here’s hoping they’re ready to take it up a few more notches during this critical next juncture.
THREE QUESTIONS WITH… Epic Marketing Consultants futurist Peter Shankman
How would you assess communications and messaging around the vaccination effort so far?
Mostly horrible, with the occasional bright spot. Let’s face it, no one knew what to say from day one. Instead of listening to scientists and putting scientists on stage, politicians took the lead. Never in the history of time has any major emergency been halted by having politicians take the lead.
There was mixed messaging from the start, Masks work. Masks don’t work. The virus is hard to spread, except when it’s easy to spread. Six feet. Fifteen minutes. Like the virus magically starts spreading after 15 minutes and not a second before. One unified message would have helped – which is hard to do when some countries won’t share anything, and others don’t believe in science. If nothing else, perhaps we can learn from this. There are SO many lessons to learn from this.
What are the areas in which those efforts could stand to improve?
Speaking in negatives never helps. In fact, studies have shown it hurts more. People are going to get together. Telling them to stop was a mistake, akin to saying, “Don’t ever have sex until you’re married” to a bunch of horny high school kids.
Messaging should have been designed to LESSEN THE COST. “We know you’re going to get together, so do it. But wear a mask and have a cup of coffee while walking around outside. The chances of spreading the virus outside are much less than inside, and wearing a mask lessens that chance even more. So get together with friends if you want to, but please think about doing it in the most responsible way, so we can go back to normal sooner rather than later.”
Something as simple as that could have made such a difference. Instead, the tactic of “stay home, never visit anyone again” was employed, with, as we can see now, terrible results.
What are the first things you plan to do after you receive the COVID vaccine? And after the pandemic lifts?
I’m on a plane as soon as I’m declared safe. And as soon as the pandemic lifts to manageable levels? I want to be back on a stage. God, I’ve missed being on a stage.
(are you smart, or do you know someone who is? If so, please reach out to Larry.Dobrow@haymarketmedia.com with nominations for potential “Three Questions With…” respondents)
- By backing the vaccination effort financially and then serving as a merry advocate for vaccine acceptance, Dolly Parton has exited the Hanks/Oprah/The Rock realm of universally beloved celebrity and entered a higher astral plane.
- The Super Bowl was not the Superspreader Bowl some had expected, with just 57 cases linked to official events around the game. Fifty-seven isn’t zero, but the over/under was in the four-figure range. Put it down in the ‘W’ column.
- The “Little Mask” music video is a good one for your little ones.
- The Washington Post weighs in, slightly after the fact, with advice on integrating new employees from afar. It dawned on me recently that I have no idea which of the many people our company has added since last March are, like, tall. The reentry is going to be jarring in ways nobody can anticipate.
- Say cheese!
…and some songs.
Tomorrow Never Knows, Bruce Springsteen
Some housekeeping news: For the next three months or so, while I’m off wrestling with a Megalodon of a project, the Coronavirus Briefing will be written by my friend and newsletter partner in crime, Jeff Forster. I’ll be back in June, at which point I hope to cover stories about inadvertent hug intensification and spontaneous conga-line outbreaks. It’s hard to be an optimist, given how we’ve bungled every aspect of our coronavirus response, but maybe there won’t be a need for this newsletter at all. Until then, be well and be smart.