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Trust Index: Changing messages in the war on COVID-19

HOUSTON – First, it was “flatten the curve,” then, “slow the spread." There has been no shortage of catchy phrases or hashtags used by public leaders during the fight against coronavirus and it’s causing some confusion as Texas continues reopening for business.

Recently, a viewer emailed his concern to KPRC 2 which read, in part:

“In March, when they were convincing us to social distance, the goal was to ‘flatten the curve’... but my question now is what are we doing in “containing” it?"

Now, the messaging from Harris County Public Health is “keep the distance, stop the spread”.

But do science and data really support that message?

“I’m very big on metaphors,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health. “I’m also big on language and alliteration and try to use those to drive home a message.”

Channel 2 Investigates decided to put the message into our Trust Index to find out if distancing can really stop the spread of COVID-19.

“What we are trying to say with this message is to work with us, to do what we can to stop this pandemic, slow the virus down, do everything we can to get ahead of it,” says Dr. Shah.

That seems like a reasonable answer since the goal is to stop the pandemic, even if the virus is unstoppable.

We asked noted epidemiologist Dr. Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine for his take.

“I like the message because you know ‘flatten the curve’ is a little abstract for people,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll completely stop the spread of the virus, but certainly could keep it greatly reduced.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employ the phrase as well in a video, albeit a little more carefully, asking people to stop the spread of germs to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

We rate this a yellow on our Trust Index for “be careful.” Keeping the distance slows the spread and may eventually stop the pandemic, but that’s not as catchy.