County’s communications strategy on COVID needs to be improved

To the Editor:

I wrote this letter to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy. I’d like to add, I appreciate the executive’s daily attention to updating county residents with important information via Facebook, and find the leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Whalen at the Albany County Health Department nothing less than transparent, informative, strategic, empathetic and all one could hope for in a leader. My sincere thanks and support go out to both of them for their public service.

Here’s the letter:

I am writing to follow up on your press conferences, which I and other citizens have been tuning in for and engaging with routinely. However, I’m concerned that a question that I’ve been consistently asking, with the interest and input of many others, is being overlooked.

Hearing that six county residents passed away last night is bone-chilling, to say the bare minimum. As we acknowledge the new strain is here and deaths are escalating, what is your office doing to ramp up communications in order to change people’s behaviors and mitigate the loss of life over the coming months as your health department simultaneously vaccinates county residents?

I’m concerned that your communications strategy has not changed, and we are expecting different or improved results from more of the same. Obviously, that is problematic.

Clearly, Dr. Whalen and the county health department have their hands full with the priority of delivering health services — so I would expect that communications to “Stay home, unless it’s essential; Wear a mask, Stay six feet apart; and Wash your hands” is something with which the county executive’s communications team would be tasked to ramp up.

I’m concerned that these key messages aren’t out on enough (or enough new) channels, or being made in a compelling enough way, to make an impact with the people who are not voluntarily listening to you via Facebook, visiting the county website, or watching/listening/reading local news stations/papers.

I recognize resources are tight, but nothing seems to be a higher priority than saving lives. I’ve suggested the following ideas via your Facebook live stream, but am reinforcing again here. It’s easy to criticize and offer nothing of value — that’s not my intent.

Your team could:

— Start an influencer campaign, getting volunteer local influencers to share social media key messages that encourage people to exhibit the right COVID behaviors. This could proliferate across channels like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, on video game platforms, and more.  This would be basically free, and could start as easily as with a couple posts online;

— Pay for paid graphic ads on Facebook (which also posts on Instagram) served to every Albany County user — this is pretty cheap, actually.;

— Post signage at essential locations everyone sees — grocery entrances, gas pumps — places people need to go even in a total shutdown mindset.

If the county is strapped for resources, can you pull in some strategic philanthropic partners? The Dakes (Stewart’s); the Golubs (Market 32/Price Chopper)? I can’t think of an opportunity to make an impact that would be more compelling to a community-based funder.

Perhaps you could also partner on messaging with neighboring counties for a Capital Region impact?  This would be a meaningful way to shine as a leader.

I recognize the governor has left you without much power to do anything “official” like shut down. But you certainly still have a voice to be a leader and tell people to do the right thing. It seems there is room for improvement in connecting with your audience, and it’s necessary to address this if the county is to curb the behaviors that contribute to rising spread.

Is this something you can speak to at your next press conference, and on which we can see more than just words, but rather, action? 

Respectfully and with hope,

Sarah Gordon



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