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Communication to promote and support physical distancing for COVID-19 prevention and control

Ryan, Rebecca E., Silke, Charlotte, Parkhill, Anne, Virgona, Ariane, Merner, Bronwen, Hurley, Shauna, Walsh, Louisa, de Moel-Mandel, Caroline, Schonfeld, Lina, Edwards, Adrian G.K. ORCID:, Kaufman, Jessica, Cooper, Alison ORCID:, Chung, Rachel Kar Yee, Solo, Karla, Hellard, Margaret, Di Tanna, Gian Luca, Pedrana, Alisa, Saich, Freya and Hill, Sophie 2023. Communication to promote and support physical distancing for COVID-19 prevention and control. Cochrane Library 2023 (10) , CD015144. 10.1002/14651858.CD015144
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Background This review is an update of a rapid review undertaken in 2020 to identify relevant, feasible and effective communication approaches to promote acceptance, uptake and adherence to physical distancing measures for COVID‐19 prevention and control. The rapid review was published when little was known about transmission, treatment or future vaccination, and when physical distancing measures (isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, crowd avoidance, work and school measures) were the cornerstone of public health responses globally. This updated review includes more recent evidence to extend what we know about effective pandemic public health communication. This includes considerations of changes needed over time to maintain responsiveness to pandemic transmission waves, the (in)equities and variable needs of groups within communities due to the pandemic, and highlights again the critical role of effective communication as integral to the public health response. Objectives To update the evidence on the question 'What are relevant, feasible and effective communication approaches to promote acceptance, uptake and adherence to physical distancing measures for COVID‐19 prevention and control?', our primary focus was communication approaches to promote and support acceptance, uptake and adherence to physical distancing. Secondary objective: to explore and identify key elements of effective communication for physical distancing measures for different (diverse) populations and groups. Search methods We searched MEDLINE, Embase and Cochrane Library databases from inception, with searches for this update including the period 1 January 2020 to 18 August 2021. Systematic review and study repositories and grey literature sources were searched in August 2021 and guidelines identified for the eCOVID19 Recommendations Map were screened (November 2021). Selection criteria Guidelines or reviews focusing on communication (information, education, reminders, facilitating decision‐making, skills acquisition, supporting behaviour change, support, involvement in decision‐making) related to physical distancing measures for prevention and/or control of COVID‐19 or selected other diseases (sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), influenza, Ebola virus disease (EVD) or tuberculosis (TB)) were included. New evidence was added to guidelines, reviews and primary studies included in the 2020 review. Data collection and analysis Methods were based on the original rapid review, using methods developed by McMaster University and informed by Cochrane rapid review guidance. Screening, data extraction, quality assessment and synthesis were conducted by one author and checked by a second author. Synthesis of results was conducted using modified framework analysis, with themes from the original review used as an initial framework. Main results This review update includes 68 studies, with 17 guidelines and 20 reviews added to the original 31 studies. Synthesis identified six major themes, which can be used to inform policy and decision‐making related to planning and implementing communication about a public health emergency and measures to protect the community. Theme 1: Strengthening public trust and countering misinformation: essential foundations for effective public health communication Recognising the key role of public trust is essential. Working to build and maintain trust over time underpins the success of public health communications and, therefore, the effectiveness of public health prevention measures. Theme 2: Two‐way communication: involving communities to improve the dissemination, accessibility and acceptability of information Two‐way communication (engagement) with the public is needed over the course of a public health emergency: at first, recognition of a health threat (despite uncertainties), and regularly as public health measures are introduced or adjusted. Engagement needs to be embedded at all stages of the response and inform tailoring of communications and implementation of public health measures over time. Theme 3: Development of and preparation for public communication: target audience, equity and tailoring Communication and information must be tailored to reach all groups within populations, and explicitly consider existing inequities and the needs of disadvantaged groups, including those who are underserved, vulnerable, from diverse cultural or language groups, or who have lower educational attainment. Awareness that implementing public health measures may magnify existing or emerging inequities is also needed in response planning, enactment and adjustment over time. Theme 4: Public communication features: content, timing and duration, delivery Public communication needs to be based on clear, consistent, actionable and timely (up‐to‐date) information about preventive measures, including the benefits (whether for individual, social groupings or wider society), harms (likewise) and rationale for use, and include information about supports available to help follow recommended measures. Communication needs to occur through multiple channels and/or formats to build public trust and reach more of the community. Theme 5: Supporting behaviour change at individual and population levels Supporting implementation of public health measures with practical supports and services (e.g. essential supplies, financial support) is critical. Information about available supports must be widely disseminated and well understood. Supports and communication related to them require flexibility and tailoring to explicitly consider community needs, including those of vulnerable groups. Proactively monitoring and countering stigma related to preventive measures (e.g. quarantine) is also necessary to support adherence. Theme 6: Fostering and sustaining receptiveness and responsiveness to public health communication Efforts to foster and sustain public receptiveness and responsiveness to public health communication are needed throughout a public health emergency. Trust, acceptance and behaviours change over time, and communication needs to be adaptive and responsive to these changing needs. Ongoing community engagement efforts should inform communication and public health response measures. Authors' conclusions Implications for practice Evidence highlights the critical role of communication throughout a public health emergency. Like any intervention, communication can be done well or poorly, but the consequences of poor communication during a pandemic may mean the difference between life and death. The approaches to effective communication identified in this review can be used by policymakers and decision‐makers, working closely with communication teams, to plan, implement and adjust public communications over the course of a public health emergency like the COVID‐19 pandemic. Implications for research Despite massive growth in research during the COVID‐19 period, gaps in the evidence persist and require high‐quality, meaningful research. This includes investigating the experiences of people at heightened COVID‐19 risk, and identifying barriers to implementing public communication and protective health measures particular to lower‐ and middle‐income countries, and how to overcome these.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1465-1858
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 27 March 2024
Date of Acceptance: 9 October 2023
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2024 14:15

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