The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, like thousands of local government agencies across the United States, has spent much of COVID-19 pandemic repeating the basics: Wear your masks, wash your hands and keep your distance.
Health data suggests many Ohioans have stopped listening. County officials gathered Thursday to discuss how they can regain the public’s attention as a potentially catastrophic winter approaches.
“We know that some people don’t want to hear that message,” county administrator Jeff Aluotto said. “We know that others are getting tired of hearing the message.”
Tuning out health experts and defying their safety recommendations are both symptoms of what’s colloquially called “COVID fatigue,” a state of psychological exhaustion that propels people to soothe their loneliness, anxiety and frustration with risky behavior.
That behavior might include having a relaxed, mask-free hangout with friends or failing to take proper precautions while celebrating a family event. Small gatherings such as birthday parties, BBQs and weddings, likely attended by COVID-fatigued participants, have been major sources of new diagnoses since September.
“(We’re talking about) how we deliver those messages and what tone we take and the way we take it,” said county communications manager Bridget Doherty on Thrusday. “That’s what we’ve really been trying to think through and adjust as we’ve gone along.”
Commissioners on Thursday approved a $2 million campaign on safe reopening, which Doherty said is crucial to support struggling businesses.
County officials have also weighed messaging options such as releasing a COVID-19 podcast or bringing in an outside media group to help strengthen their messaging, but the meeting yielded few concrete solutions.
Ohio’s coronavirus numbers are bad already, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Daily diagnoses increased by 280% between the end of September and the start of November, and hospitalizations are higher than they’ve ever been. The arrival of colder weather, which will make outdoor gatherings more difficult, is expected to create even more cases as Americans mingle indoors.
Commissioners plan to discuss specific recommendations for how families can celebrate winter holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve at their next public update, which will take place Oct. 11.