During a sanitary crisis, news can spread as fast as disease. As countries continue to face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing up-to-date and accurate information is an essential part of the response. Otherwise, in this era of globalisation, misleading information can trigger unintended consequences worldwide.
As the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in wild and companion cats in the United States of America, the USDA has worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in delivering clear messages to inform the public about the health situation in animals.
“We wanted to avoid false assumptions that could lead to the adoption of measures against animal welfare,” shared Dr Mark Davidson, USA Delegate to the OIE. “By rapidly notifying the public with accurate and concise information, we could stop the potential spreading of rumours.”
Indeed, there is no current evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of human infections with SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19.
Using the OIE Questions and Answers on COVID-19 as a base, the USDA developed messages that helped put the few detections of animal cases in proper context by communicating the facts based on current scientific evidence. These messages were proactively disseminated through several communication channels.
After releasing the messages, USDA spokespeople remained available to respond to questions and provide additional details, but also to acknowledge certain facts related to COVID-19 that still remain under investigation at the global level. This is a key element of crisis communications. Emergency situations could also involve uncertainties that should be proclaimed and continuously updated, as an essential step to build trust.
Timely, easy to understand and trustworthy information can help minimise the impacts of COVID-19 worldwide. To help national Veterinary Services build capacities in communications, the OIE trains several representatives each year on risk-communications in line with its International Standards on the topic. In the context of COVID-19, the Organisation made available online a ‘Questions and Answers’ as well as the reports from its experts’ meetings on this disease. Like the USDA, other national Veterinary Services are using this reliable source of information to craft consistent and accurate messaging. Once disseminated, these messages can ensure that the latest scientific information is accessible to everyone.