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With Coronavirus COVID-19, You Need Careful and Consistent Language

Language is important when talking about risk.

One of the quotes that apply directly to the current Coronavirus COVID-19 is this one, "It is not enough to speak to be understood, you must speak so as to not to be misunderstood." 

This has been a real challenge here in the United States at the national level. Mixed messages have prevailed:

  • Everyone needs to start preparing now
  • It will likely burn itself out 
  • We are gearing up to do everything possible
  • It may be a big deal, or not
  • We have 60 Americans with the virus
  • We have 15 Americans with the virus
  • It will take a year to have a vaccine
  • We will have a vaccine soon — this year
  • People need to take precautions
  • People don't have anything to worry about
  • The president is to blame
  • The Democrats are the ones to blame
  • The CDC is the one to blame
Look out, Vice President Pence, you could end up being the "one to blame." Was he set up this week to be thrown under the bus?


Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.