CDC withholding information leads to distrust from nation
Ebola isn’t going to kill Americans, but the lack of trust between the American public and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might. With the CDC repeatedly mishandling the spread of information, the inconsistencies in its direction and message have been contributing to the fear of Ebola in America.
According to the L.A. Times, the CDC posted a fact sheet that said Ebola could be caught if someone contagious sneezed within a close range to nearby individuals, directly on the face, or if the sneeze droplets made contact with a person’s nose, eyes or mouth.
The CDC was quick to note that Ebola is not like a cold. Coughing and sneezing are not considered notable symptoms of Ebola and is not an airborne illness.
The original factsheet said that “droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed by a sick person enter the eyes, nose or mouth of a second person. Droplets travel short distances, less than three feet from one person to another” before it was taken down a few days later without notice and replaced with a new one on the CDC website.
“If the story keeps changing, they’re not sharing the facts. Facts shouldn’t be changing,” said advertising senior Ricky Hollis. “My first reaction would be that the CDC would be an inaccurate source of information and I would turn to another source instead.”
Many Americans seem to be mistrustful of the CDC. After the CDC confidently said it would not let Ebola spread after bringing three infected people in, it’s easy to see why. The difference between Ebola outbreaks in the U.S. and other countries is that the outbreaks here are, for the most part, contained. Elsewhere, the lack of a public health infrastructure and a public that had not heard of Ebola or how it spread were contributing factors to a widespread outbreak.
“It just keeps the panic going, like the general fear about Ebola in the U.S.,” said media production senior Barbara Alicea-Aponte. “It doesn’t do anything to reassure people about that fear. It just generates even more confusion and unnecessary fear. The CDC could benefit from being transparent and being straightforward about it, instead of providing false reassurance about Ebola.”
Hospitals in the U.S. have much better infection control measures in place and hospital staff is well aware of good clinical practices. What the CDC learns becomes public knowledge as soon as it comes in, so if the public knows more, the public will act rationally.
On the other hand, the World Health Organization has been putting out a steady resource of information. WHO has released statements and informational materials on Ebola on its own site.
According to a statement from the WHO, Oct. 20 marked the end of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. The highlight of WHO’s communication efforts and information strategy is the situation report updates.
The latest report for Nov. 14 details the current situation, and all older situation reports are available for view on the side bar.
“If something new and terrifying is happening to the nation, and they’re telling people one thing and they can’t support it, the CDC’s reputation is being affected negatively,” Hollis said.
The CDC wouldn’t have the issue it faces now with holding onto the public’s trust. The public tends to be much more forgiving if an organization makes it aware that a mistake has been made and which set of information is the most accurate.
If the CDC keeps replacing factsheets with a new one without any signal alerting the public of any changes, the public will infer that something else is happening in the background.
The CDC loses its credibility by not being transparent, further contributing to the confusion already being put out there by multiple news media sources. If the CDC wants to be the primary trusted source of information, it needs to rethink its communication strategy during times of crisis.
The organization needs to get on the same page and give the public the information it needs to make decisions. The “this is the way we need to handle the public” doesn’t work anymore. The public can handle the facts, but what it can’t handle is the spread of misinformation trickling down from higher authority.
The problem with Ebola is not the virus itself. The poorly defined communication plan and strategy is the problem. If federal authority doesn’t relay clear, consistent messaging and actions to the public, the problem transcends what’s happening with Ebola in the U.S. and becomes a larger issue when facing new disease outbreaks in the future.
Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations senior and may be reached at [email protected]