CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's been almost a year and a half since the world first shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the rules and safety protocols have changed many times.
Most recently, the CDC changed its recommendation around masking for fully vaccinated people, and it’s left some confused, and wondering what they should do.
The messaging from the CDC wasn't direct, and Gov. Roy Cooper and Mecklenburg County Health officials have not mandated masks again, so actually influencing people's behavior will be a challenge.
The recommendation reversal is giving some whiplash.
“It's kind of weird going from no one wearing masks at all, to masks again,” Anson Millard said. “It seems like just a weird backstep."
The evolving guidance isn't necessarily the problem. As the virus changes, the guidance also has to change, to keep people safe.
“This is a new virus for us frankly," Dr. Cameron Wolfe with Duke Health said. "Because of that, this will continue to ebb and flow in ways that are hard for us to predict, try as we might."
But the CDC may have a communications crisis. Clear messaging is key in influencing the audience's behaviors, but this message doesn’t seem to be sticking. It was vague and didn't point out the specific areas in the country most at risk, leaving many wondering if it applied to them.
“It’s super important to be mindful that your audience is a mix of people with a variety of backgrounds and availability to receive your message,” Corri Smith, the owner of local PR firm Black Wednesday said. “It is very confusing when you do mass messaging that has a lot of different rules for everyone so I think going back to a blanket message of, 'Let's just set some guidelines.'"
Smith thinks there's still an opportunity for the CDC to redirect its messaging.
“I think if there was some of that authentic leveling with people to just say maybe we didn't do it right and here’s what you need to know, I think that could go a long way,” she said.
Smith also thinks meaningful partnerships can help. For example, she thinks if the CDC worked with the Small Business Administration, they could get the necessary information to local businesses owners, who could then communicate more directly with their team and likely have more influence.