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‘Avoid the Coronavirus Blame Game’
Rebecca Ortiz is an assistant professor of advertising in the Newhouse School. Her primary areas of expertise are health communication research and campaign development and evaluation.
In many states across the United States recently, the coronavirus positivity rate for people under the age of 35 has grown higher than for those older than 35. The younger population is not adhering to social distancing restrictions, and the messaging being used to drive that home is ineffective.
These younger Americans are being singled out collectively in the news media and on social media for their seeming reluctance to abide public health directives to curb the spread of COVID-19. In an opinion piece for U.S. News & World Report, Ortiz suggests health communicators should reframe their messaging and recognize that pointing fingers at young people for flouting pandemic health guidance won’t get more of them to listen. “The underlying message is that young people do not care about others, and that they are selfish and short-sighted,” she says.
“While public shaming and finger-pointing may seem like a persuasive tactic to get those who refuse to adhere to health guidelines to fall in line, it also could unnecessarily create more division and tension among an already anxious and fearful population,” she writes. “Health guidelines already have become highly politicized and partisan, pushing the nation further into an us vs. them mentality. We must avoid further division and acknowledge that no one is untouched by this pandemic.”
Ortiz says it is important to recognize that while older Americans are likely to view the pandemic as a threat to their personal health, younger Americans see the coronavirus differently. They are more likely to have lost their job or wages as a result and experienced emotional distress.
“If we want to appeal to young people, public health messaging cannot just focus on how mask-wearing and social distancing may reduce deaths and hospitalizations among our most vulnerable,” Ortiz writes. “It also must emphasize how these behaviors can help us get back to work, back on college campuses and back to all the places we enjoy spending time with others.”
To read her essay in its entirety, visit the U.S. News & World Report website.
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