As federal and state lawmakers have worked in recent weeks to address safe pathways for re-opening the economy amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the use of masks by Americans in public places has become a central issue of contention among policymakers and the public alike.
Unfortunately, public confusion reigned early on when, perhaps concerned with a national run on scarce personal protective equipment (PPE), the surgeon general and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that Americans not stockpile masks and instead encouraged the public to wash their hands more often. On April 3rd, the CDC reversed course on its face mask guidelines, following growing evidence that carriers could transmit the virus more readily than previously thought, but at that point in our national discourse, the debate and divisiveness had begun.
At a time when protections to public health are more critical than ever, the team at PLUS believed then, and believes now, that all of us need to do our part. To that end, as the debate over masks heated up even as the science became increasingly clear, our firm was proud to work pro-bono on behalf of the Masks4All coalition, which includes many of the world’s leading public health scientists and researchers. #Masks4All is an all-volunteer organization that started and powered the movement for people and governments to follow the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows we need to wear homemade masks in public to slow COVID-19.
To guide and help shape media coverage and third-party engagement, PLUS worked with Masks4All to develop key messaging materials such as talking points, Q&A and backgrounders, customizing messages thematically where possible to increase relatability (i.e., science-focused, state/regional-focused, business-focused, etc.). Our goal was to synthesize the benefits of mask use into an easily digestible message for key reporters, lawmakers and the public, in order to garner favorable media coverage and support, particularly among conservative quarters where polling showed there was the most reticence.
Early on, our team developed and implemented a rollout plan for a new coalition letter to all 50 governors calling for every state to establish policies requiring mask use in all public places, while also asking the country’s business leaders to require their employees and customers to wear masks whether or not it is required by local law, noting that this vital step would help protect and save lives.
We helped secure the lead guest op-ed placement in the nation’s biggest newspaper, USA Today, to introduce the letter and followed it up with an aggressive earned media campaign that garnered coverage in national outlets such as CNN, key state media outlets and conservative media outlets, namely Newsmax. To bring to life the human impact, PLUS developed opportunities to pitch local business and community stories – and other third-party validator voices – to targeted media as a means to make the coalition’s work more compelling and tangible.
By mid-June, a new Fox News poll revealed a full 80 percent of Americans supported wearing masks and days later Republican leaders and right-leaning media, including influential Fox News hosts, were promoting the use of protective masks to a degree that was previously unseen. And of course, most recently, President Trump tweeted an image of himself wearing a face mask and called it a patriotic thing to do.
To be clear, many voices are responsible for the needed change in public opinion on masks over the last several months, but PLUS is proud to see the steady progress that has been made and to do our part working with some of America’s leading experts in support of this critical public health issue.