Winning the public will to overcome the coronavirus pandemic
By Dennis Archambault
One of the most challenging aspects of responding to the coronavirus pandemic has been engineering the public will to address the problem. It appears from a recent survey conducted by the Detroit Regional Chamber
(https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/12/15/michigan-voters-back-virus-vaccinations-whitmer-pandemic-measures-poll-finds/3897875001/) that public opinion is headed in the right direction for both adopting public health measures and taking the vaccine. The study reveals another important observation, the coronavirus has been a threat to both public health and business survival – not one or the other.
From the outset, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun have stressed that the public health measures undertaken since last March have been based on epidemiological analysis and good science. Also, from the outset, there has been resistance from a segment of the population to adopting public health measures for the best interest of the common good, rather than self-interest. This has been a difficult pill to swallow – one which some still resist. But according to the Chamber study, a majority of registered voters surveyed agreed with the measures undertaken by the governor but are also concerned with the viability of small businesses. As Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber noted, “from day one, the chamber has looked at the public health crisis and the economic crisis as one.”
To that note, the state’s success has been measured by both metrics. Another study undertaken by the Chamber (https://www.detroitchamber.com/covid19/87-of-michigans-economy-is-back-according-to-new-report/) indicates that the state was not only effective in flattening the curve of the early spike on coronavirus cases, but Michigan’s economy has also made a remarkable recovery. Nearly 90 percent of the state’s economy has recovered. That is more favorable than the nation at large, which has recovered to about 80 percent of its pre-pandemic vitality. The manufacturing sector, led by the auto industry, has been effective in reengineering its workplace with attention to occupational health. As a result, there have been few work stoppages since the stop and start moments early-on. It’s been more difficult for the retail sector, but even with a slower rollout, by September the curve appeared to be under control and the retail sector, including restaurants, seemed back to normal – under public health measures.
The current national coronavirus infection spike – fueled by large campaign gatherings, college campus socializing, and holiday gatherings – has created a “pause” that is very unfortunate for the restaurant industry, which has had to curtail its sit-down business at the busiest time of the year. (It should be noted that this crisis has fueled some exciting innovation in the food business, such as “ghost kitchens,” creative carry-out menus, and delivery service.)
Looking forward to the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, the Chamber study was also very optimistic. Nearly 53 percent of the respondents said they would receive the vaccine when it’s available, while 30 percent would not, and 13.2 percent said it depends. “It depends” is like the “undecided,” a category that political campaigns look to move in their direction. Public health communicators will need to focus their campaigns on this sector to achieve immunity among 80-90 percent of the population, either through prior infection or vaccination. So, we have our work cut out for us.
The good news going into it is that the public will is now clearly on our side to maintain public health discipline and adopt the vaccine, both of which will be for the common good.
Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.