The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidance to U.S. higher education institutions, and various federal government agencies as well as state and local health departments are updating their guidance almost daily.
But as a college or university, do you have an adequate plan – and the necessary supporting materials – to communicate about the coronavirus to your students, their families, your faculty, and your staff? Do you have a plan for how you will deal with public and media interest if you have an outbreak of infection on your campus or in your health facility?
Legend Labs has worked with a large, flagship state university to develop its coronavirus communications plan, and developed it well before the virus was even reported in the United States. As Legend Labs developed these strategies, they have identified some key considerations your institution may find valuable.
The situation is changing daily. There must be a mechanism for near-constant review and updating of policies, strategies, and supporting materials.
Educational institutions generally lack public health expertise and will defer to local public health agencies for guidance. But they cannot defer to overburdened public health agencies for communications. It is essential that the institutions take the initiative in communicating with all their various constituencies, some of whom – especially parents and other members of students’ families – may be outside the local jurisdiction, state, or even the country.
Institutions with study-abroad programs have already begun to bring students home and curtail programs. In addition to dealing with health and quarantining concerns, they must deal with travel logistics and requests from students and parents for refunds of tuition and fees associated with those programs.
It is essential for institutions to develop a central hub of information and a coordinated group of individuals responsible for maintaining it.
Anxiety is a real concern and people must cope with the uncertainties of this pandemic, including such questions as fatality rates, virulence, availability of testing, and so on. Mental healthcare and counseling is an essential component of the institutional response.
Institutions that also operate healthcare facilities such as hospitals will find themselves dealing with media inquiries and possibly with coronavirus cases even if the virus does not otherwise appear to be present in the campus population itself. Public perceptions may fail to distinguish between the two unless care is taken in communications.
Fear and stigma associated with infection is a concern, especially if it is associated with a particular national or ethnic group. Institutions should take the opportunity to restate their values and take steps to prevent a backlash against the members of any such group.
In the face of these unprecedented times, it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re as prepared as possible for how this pandemic could affect your institution now and in the future.
The Legend Labs team includes experts in digital analytics who leverage state-of-the-art software to extract insights and intelligence from online conversations.
Legend Labs is tracking the COVID-19 conversation as it relates to all universities in the United States to better understand communications imperatives and best practices.
Legend Labs provides brand and communications consulting services to help organizations grow and protect their brands in the digital age. The company understands that each institution is unique and develops project plans to best suit each individual member’s specific needs and goals.