Timing Is Everything In A Crisis

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

This is a particularly bad time for a pandemic.

The Epidemic Intelligence Service, a program born of the CDC, is “kind of like a secret society, but for saving people” according to Dr. Francis Riedo, a graduate of the program and an infectious disease doctor from Seattle. Think of the EIS as the CIA of infectious diseases.

“One of the E.I.S’s core principles is that pandemic is a communications emergency as much as a medical crisis”, writes Charles Duhigg in the New Yorker. “There are so many terrifying possibilities in a pandemic, information brings relief.“

As such, The E.I.S- founded in 1951- has boiled the art of communication down to its own science in a field manual: which scientist should be the elected spokesperson, what he or she should say, how and when to say it. The roadmap remains the same, despite the emergency. The most effective institutions and businesses refine systems, not parts. The EIS has mastered the system of crisis PR.

Essentially, the EIS has found a path to inject political formalities into science. Again, Duhigg does a terrific job explaining why this is so crucial:

The E.I.S constructed the framework of public communication because the science of epidemiology is inherently messy. Salesmanship matters when the product is murky, yet crucial.

I am pessimistic about our national outlook for two reasons.

First, we have substituted scientists- along with the public methods they have crafted specifically for situations like this- for politicians. What, exactly, does a politician bring to the podium that an elected leader of the E.I.S does not?

Washington state has led the way with adhering to the E.I.S playbook. Today, they have less than 2% of cases in the US. Meanwhile, in NYC, where the Mayor and the Governor are in a relentless pissing match and the former calls out “All Jews” on Twitter, the death toll sits at 18,580.

During the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 which caused greater than 12,000 deaths, President Obama seldom spoke publicly of the subject without differing to scientists. He refrained from dishing out impromptu medical advice, and even praised the previous administration.

Needless to say, things are different today. Politics has become so embedded in our lives, that we simply cannot separate it from anything -including a pandemic. Scientists, the theory went, would at least seem impartial to politics from the jump. The toxicity of politics has seeped it’s way into the facts, and we are left with confusing half-truths and bizarre remedy ideas like ingesting Clorox. This is now Trump’s world, we are just living in it. In this world, nothing is black and white.

Which is part of why I feel our social response has been dismal. We are a wishy-washy country hooked on social media driven short-term dopamine hits. We are hurt, angry, and isolated. We continue to be encased in our own silos, and the information half of us receive, somehow even in in this moment, is vastly different.

Maybe this is why some NYC parks were packed to the brim yesterday, or why a Nassau county legislator proposed a fine for littering PPE. This pandemic, like any crisis, only exposed our division.

I don’t wan’t to speculate about what comes next. I’m just an idiot with some late night feels. All I know for sure is this: it worked in Washington.



Looking to find my truth.

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