Communicating Coronavirus

It was only a matter of time. This week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, flanked by public health and safety officials took to the airwaves and social media to inform our region of the first two coronavirus cases in Michigan. How did she do? And how are public officials and entities doing in general in our region and beyond in communicating current events and anticipating future developments?

Times of crisis can truly test the mettle of any public official or corporate CEO. In the case Tuesday night of Whitmer, who went on-air just before 11:00 p.m., she came across as a leader. She was calm, cool, collected. She informed, sought to educate and reiterated CDC steps aimed at control. She directed those with more information to the state website and page on the virus and, importantly, she worked in lock step with health officials for clear and consistent messaging. It’s how you build trust. It’s how you prevent panic.

In a similar vein, earlier this week I and Spirit Airline passengers from coast to coast received an email message from president and CEO Ted Christie. The missive was direct, extensive and powerful. It detailed the expansive steps his airline was taking in the areas of cabin cleaning and air filtration systems aimed at ensuring passenger safety. He reiterated he was personally involved and traveling the nation to make sure every step that could be taken was occurring. Again, in charge and informative with a communicated resolve to make safety his number one priority.

Panic comes from ignorance and not being informed. It can also come from inconsistent messages from leaders who are not forthcoming or even truthful. As this virus becomes more and more of a reality for our region, how will our multitude of leaders respond – in government, higher education, business and in healthcare? How will they communicate both internally and externally? The answer is still largely to be seen, heard and determined.