Low Risk Does Not Mean No Risk: This is the Comms Challenge Now

Low risk doesn’t mean no risk. 

This is the coronavirus comms challenge now. 

Anger directed against what is essentially a highly mobile, adaptive and close to inanimate object whose sole purpose of being is to replicate itself quickly and widely doesn’t really make sense. 

So we direct our ire towards the unwitting hosts of the virus and those agencies and leaders who are tasked to protect us. It’s understandable. No one welcomes this fresh injection of uncertainty into the mix, especially where it looks like it could have been avoidable. 

What we need to remember here is that ‘low risk’ does not mean ‘no risk’.

This is the key task for fresh communications in this new risk environment. 

Because as the new coronavirus variants affect communities who are used to implementing a tried and tested system to guard against a virus with important differences compared to the original virus, what worked previously may not work so well now. 

We need flexibility – not just for those who protect and advise us, but by consumers of that information and advice our communities too. And that includes me and you. We need to be more adept at refreshing our behaviours to make sure we are adhering to the latest advice, and to act with those extra precautions, even when it looks like the threat isn’t there. And doing it consistently. Again and again. 

Because that’s our kryptonite as humans: where the threat is invisible, and where it has a long lag time before we can detect its presence through tests or symptoms, we discount the risk until we can ‘see’ it – when it is already spreading in our communities. Just look at how QR code scanning goes up massively after we detect a case in the community. The problem is, this may be too late. 

Here’s the additional problem: when we are in an environment which is giving us multiple indicators that there is nothing to worry about here, for example, if we have tested negative multiple times, or we are living in a family bubble where everyone is testing negative, and no-one has symptoms, we can see how people may discount any risk from ‘low risk’ to ‘no risk’. 

Add to that the pressure of living in financially precarious circumstances where every paid shift of work makes a difference, and where you are competing for those work shifts with others who are also in precarious circumstances and you can see how the pressure to see your situation as ‘no risk’ adds up. Add into this mix a possibly difficult manager / organisational setting where not being at work means you’re less likely to get future work, and what would you do? 

If you even so much as pause before your answer, there’s some processing of a dilemma going on for you that affords you some insight into what may be happening. 

Support people to see ‘low risk’ as genuine risk.

It’s human to discount low risk where we can see no sign of the virus, to give us permission to just carry on as before.

If you have ever not bothered washing your hands, or put a mask on, or not bothered to physically distance, or not scanned or kept a record of your movements, are you on a continuum of minimising ‘low risk’ to ‘no risk’ too?  

In this increased threat environment, the entire ‘team of 5 million’ need to pull together once again, especially those who are carrying the much of the burden in Auckland.

Leaders need to provide better communications to businesses and community leaders about the structural financial support that is available. The information is out there, but it’s clearly not cutting through. Understanding that dealing with finances in the here-and-now is critical, but it’s also future income potential once the immediate isolation period is over that is also at stake. 

And for those being asked to isolate, I’m sure that the advice given is there to protect yourself and others in order to cause the least disturbance as possible to you and your community. Perhaps the way forward is to increase the number of checks being made by public health staff / social workers with those affected families , to ensure that any additional needs are being met, and to keep an eye out on how isolations are progressing. I know everyone is doing their best, but those face-to-face checks may need to be stepped up. 


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