County communications teams get the word out
Throughout the pandemic, county communications officers have been front and center in getting the word out to residents.
“Our team has been at the forefront, working hand in hand with the health department to communicate protective measures,” says JESSICA LOEPER, chief communications officer for New Hanover County.
Her team has used traditional and social media to communicate public health data, information from the governor’s office, testing site locations, and vaccine rollout updates, she notes.
“We have created videos, animations, and graphics; and posted on social media daily with public health reminders, case counts, testing and community resources, safety messages, and so much more,” Loeper says. “We have collaborated with the hospital and other trusted voices to share important information. And, we have worked with community partners and our Office of Diversity and Equity to reach into historically marginalized communities with targeted messages and outreach testing.”
Likewise, Brunswick County Communication Manager MEAGAN KASCSAK has expanded the county’s social media presence to communicate more effectively. New to the job in 2019, she had already planned an overhaul of the county’s communication systems. The pandemic pushed it forward, she says.
Both counties have webpages dedicated to the pandemic and now vaccine information. With the statewide plan evolving constantly, they note the necessity of being proactive.
“As you can imagine, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about vaccines. We have to be proactive to try to combat some of the myths and rumors,” Loeper says. “It’s been an important part of the process.”
Working with the county health department, Loeper says there’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to share information, craft statements, and prepare the public health team.
“They’re the subject-matter experts, but we’re learning from them every day so we can make sure we’re sharing the right information with the community,” she says.
“We have some experience in fast-moving emergencies because of the hurricanes that have impacted us in recent years, so we have a well-established process of communicating information and working with our media partners to share messages widely. We know that not everyone absorbs or engages with information in the same way – so creatively and consistently sharing information has been key throughout COVID-19,” Loeper says.
Because knowledge of the virus and its repercussions is constantly changing, keeping the community well informed can be difficult.
“We want everyone to have the right information at the right time, and that’s challenging as the situation is in constant flux,” says LAUREN MCCONVILLE, communications and outreach coordinator for New Hanover County.
One of the biggest challenges to communicating effectively is the intangible nature of the pandemic itself, notes KATE OELSLAGER, also a communications and outreach coordinator for New Hanover County.
“During other emergencies, like hurricanes, we can see and feel the effects right away,” Oelslager says. “A pandemic doesn’t work like this, and a lot of ‘ifs’ are at play. ‘If you do this, it will or will not slow the spread of the virus.’
“So much of how well we fare as a community depends on our collective efforts, and that can be difficult to communicate when the enemy we are fighting is invisible,” she adds. “Sharing consistently why it’s important, and the impact those actions have had has been a challenge. But, while COVID-19 continues to evolve in our community, we see the positive impacts of constant, clear communication. Our residential facilities are not overrun with outbreaks, and our hospital maintains capacity to serve our residents from across the region.”
Negativity and a distrust of the severity of the pandemic have been obvious on social media sites, according to the team members.
A goal, McConville notes, has been to make sure the correct information is made available accurately and timely to every household in the community.
“I think the biggest misperception about COVID-19 is downplaying the severity or the thinking that this is really only impacting older adults and those with serious health conditions. This virus impacts all of us,” she says. “It’s taken away loved ones that should have had more time; people are struggling unnecessarily through really tough times, and we still don’t know what the impact will be of any of this long term.
“We need more empathy around these circumstances, people taking this virus and precautions seriously, and a better understanding of the big picture,” McConville says. “We can literally save lives if we all do our part. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?”
To view more of photographer Logan Burke’s work, go to LoganBurkePhoto.com
Pictured above: NHC communications team members Lauren McConville, Jessica Loeper, and Kate Oelslager at the county’s Coronavirus Call Center
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