Senior public health leadership during the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak: Comparative approaches to mitigating the spread of infectious disease and its social consequences in Canada and abroad

Fafard, Patrick | $308,690

Ontario University of Ottawa 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

During an infectious disease outbreak, senior public health leaders work diligently to contain its spread, manage the medical and social impact, and try to counter misinformation and prevent discrimination. The emergence of a novel coronavirus has vividly demonstrated the need for clear, timely, and accessible information from trusted and authoritative public figures. In many countries, the virus has been accompanied by the spread of false information, racism, and panic. These factors heighten the risks of the virus for individuals and communities and complicate the challenges public health leaders face in containing it. The proposed research will systematically analyze the ways in which public health leaders in Canada and four other countries with similar public health systems are addressing the biological and social risks of the novel coronavirus in their public messaging across a range of platforms, including social media. Using text analysis of official communications and one-on-one interviews with public health leaders, we will analyze and compare how government spokespeople, including Chief Public Health Officers and Ministers of Health, are communicating medical advice, addressing misinformation, and tackling racism. We will also examine whether and how they identify different impacts of the virus based on sex and gender. The project will additionally collect public polling data to investigate the extent to which these public health communications are received, understood, and trusted by citizens in different countries. As a result of this project, we will have a better understanding of who speaks for the government during an outbreak, the kind of information they share, and how their messages are understood by the public.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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