Listening to the public during a pandemic – and providing answers that make a difference
The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has a long history of providing services and reliable information to Idahoans. Even so, we knew from the early days of the pandemic that we couldn’t simply rely on decades of experience and our tried-and-tested communication practices with Idahoans and our partners. This is because we have all faced new challenges every day, that have affected each of us in different ways. We realized we had to listen in new ways.
So last April, we made the most of what 2020 had to offer, and we took to communicating with digital formats. We began a new listening initiative, where we made our subject matter experts available to the public to answer questions. One of these initiatives makes Facebook Live videos a weekly priority. We invite questions from the public, and each week one of our staff members goes live on Facebook with their answers. Our communications staff keep an eye on the comments in the video feeds as well, and stay engaged to make sure we understand whether we are getting it right – are we answering your questions? Are we providing the information you need that will help you to navigate through these uncertain times?
We have broadcast 43 Facebook Live events since April 2020, and we continue to listen to questions and share information in the videos. The topics we cover depend on what we are hearing from Idahoans: Is the vaccine safe? How does the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System work? What is my vaccine priority group? What will the pandemic do to our mental health, and what can we do to cope?
We consider the questions and identify the experts within our ranks who know the answers. Depending on the questions we hear, our featured experts may specialize in immunizations, epidemiology, behavioral health, public health recommendations such as what kinds of gatherings are higher or lower in risk, and more.
At DHW, we always have a lot of detailed work going on behind the scenes, and as a public service organization, transparency is one of our top priorities. Hearing from the public about which details matter has helped us to be transparent by sharing information that is relevant and helpful.
So far, the Facebook Live videos have received more than 176,000 views. From the feedback and viewership, we feel we have found a way to connect with Idahoans in a way that matters.
We have also developed communication channels for Idahoans who prefer to get information in other ways. One way is by responding to questions we receive through regular posts here, on the DHW Voice blog.
Also, in January we began holding weekly media briefings under Gov. Brad Little’s leadership. At the first briefing, 460 members of the public, DHW employees, and reporters attended. The briefings are another opportunity for us to listen to questions and concerns from media who represent people all over the state, and to answer these questions. By making connections with the professionals from the department who are hard at work finding answers and solutions, we have been able to provide the most reliable, up-to-date information that matters the most to Idahoans. Details on upcoming media briefings, which are open to the public via Webex, can be found on the Idaho Coronavirus Website Events Page.
Another example of what has been possible as a result of listening is the new Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System. After listening to Idahoans sharing experiences of confusion and frustration from trying to figure out how and when to get a vaccine, we put a team together to find a solution. With the pre-registration system, Idahoans no longer have to regularly call providers and check websites for appointments. Those who sign up with the new system will be contacted by an enrolled COVID-19 vaccine provider when it is their turn and when the provider has appointments and vaccine available.
As each day continues to present new challenges and new questions (e.g., “I’m vaccinated… what now?”), we will continue to listen, connect, and provide answers to help Idahoans make individual decisions on how to stay safe and healthy.
You can follow the DHW’s work toward our mission and read more about our Strategic Plan on our website.
All Idahoans 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 5
Thanks to a decision by Gov. Brad Little, all Idahoans 16 and older – regardless of job or health status – will be eligible to get the COVID-19 starting Monday, April 5.
On Monday, March 29, those aged 16-44 with at least one medical condition will become eligible.
You can find more about signing up for a vaccine, current priority groups, and what to expect at your vaccination appointment at: https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/covid-19-vaccination.
New vaccine confidence messaging begins statewide
You may see or hear new commercials from the state of Idaho about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. The messages will run statewide on television, radio, and digital channels. One of the messages is available now, and you can watch it at: Idaho Health and Welfare | COVID-19 Vaccine (:30 Ad) – YouTube
As we all get our vaccines and look forward to the end of this pandemic, we still need to balance our hope with the reality that the virus is still among us. Until more people are vaccinated, we must continue to wear face coverings in public, stay 6 feet apart, keep our hands clean, and stay home if we’re sick. Thank you for doing your part to get Idaho back to normal as soon as possible.