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How Biden’s Response To Monkeypox Reflects Crisis Management Lessons Learned From Covid

It is a crisis management best practice to learn from the successes and mistakes that were made in responding to other crises.

As I wrote last October, “In a grim assessment of the efforts to end the Covid pandemic, a new report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board concludes that the world was still ‘woefully unprepared”‘ for any health emergency, with “neither the capacity to end the current pandemic in the near future nor to prevent the next one.”

The Biden administration’s announcement on Thursday that it had declared monkeypox to be a public health emergency again underscored the need to learn from and apply the lessons from the early days of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Crisis management and public relations experts have weighed in with their thoughts on how the Biden administration is applying those lessons to this crisis.

7 Applied Lessons

Rick Alcantara is the founder and principal of Rick Alcantara Consulting, a crisis communications and public relations firm. He said via email that compared to the early response to Covid in 2020:

  • The Biden administration is listening to health experts rather than politicians, soothsayers and gut feelings when evaluating the disease’s potential to reach crisis proportions.
  • No one is discussing the possibility that the US will achieve herd immunity against monkeypox.
  • Politics is playing no role in which states, communities and healthcare facilities are receiving treatments.
  • No one is downplaying the risks of monkeypox and speculating that it will be gone by Easter.
  • No one is encouraging domestic violence by singling out a sector of the population as the cause of the outbreak.
  • The Biden administration is being careful not to label the gay community as the source of the disease.
  • The administration is pushing an aggressive PR campaign to educate Americans, especially high-risk populations, about the nature of the disease.

“The Right And Responsible Thing”

“The US government did the right and responsible thing…in declaring monkeypox a national health emergency less than two weeks after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, declared it a global health emergency, according to Gigi Marino, an account strategist at Otter Public Relations said via email.

Timeliness

“Timeliness is one of the major tenets of effective crisis communications, and President Biden should be commended for his swift action. The initial communications around Covid, particularly with naming it the ‘Wuhan flu,’ were murky and not well informed, contributing to the rapid spread of the disease in the US,” she observed.

Transparency

“Transparency is also another important tenet, and, so far, the federal government’s official communications are reporting what scientists know.”

“From both a communicator and citizen’s perspective, I was concerned that the disease would be written off as another ‘gay disease,’ as AIDS was in the early 1990s (as 95% percent of the people who have contracted monkeypox are gay and bisexual men ), but that has not been the case,” Marino said.

“Unfortunately, individual states are not all following the nation’s lead, which goes against the principles of having a unified public message,” she concluded.

Challenges

“The lessons learned about how to communicate about both HIV and COVID-19 are important to understand how to respond to monkeypox, trying to be clear about what we do and don’t know and not marginalizing specific populations,” according to Sarah Bass, an associate professor of social and behavioral science and director of the risk communication laboratory in Temple University’s College of Public Health.

“But Covid-19 fatigue is real, and it’s hard to get the public to think about yet another public health outbreak, especially when there are so many sources of information, most of which are not correct or perpetuating stereotypes of who is at risk, ” she warned in an email message.

“Moving forward, communication needs to be immediate but also be targeting, using community-based organizations or other advocates to reach communities that are most at risk to provide clear risk reduction messages,” Bass counseled.

Advice For Business Executives

In April 2021, I wrote about the ten lessons business leaders could learn from how Biden addressed the Covid-19 crisis. Those lessons apply to how his administration should consider managing the monkeypox crisis in the days ahead.

The lessons include.

  • Have a plan
  • Establish objectives
  • Simplify messages
  • Don’t waive
  • Quantify goals
  • Set good examples
  • Create understanding
  • Build trust
  • Stay human
  • Control the narrative

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