Q&A: How can I carry out public outreach on heatwaves during the COVID-19 pandemi

Updated: 22 May 2020

Answer

Communication strategies on heatwaves, targeting the general public should be scaled up to raise awareness of heightened vulnerabilities to hot weather due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At-home safety checks of the most vulnerable can be undertaken. Review plans for in-home safety checks of the most vulnerable during hot weather in the context of COVID-19, ensuring the health and safety of outreach staff and volunteers through training and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE). Where possible, increase telephone contacting and transition at-home safety checks for the most vulnerable into remote approaches (telephone and videocall).

What can be done?

General Public Communication

  • Adjust standard heatwave messaging to include examples of guidance that can be followed while adhering to physical distancing, including information on changes in access to public spaces and cooling facilities. Keep messaging clear and short, use plain language and avoid unnecessary jargon. Appropriate language versions may be necessary to reach high risk communities.
  • Ensure that frontline COVID-19 responders who are in contact with the public are well informed about heatwave risks and convey approved messages to the most vulnerable.  
  • Increase awareness that people infected with, or recovering from, COVID-19 are likely more vulnerable to heat stress. 
  • Mention that COVID-19 transmission does not decrease during hot weather. Exposure to sun and hot temperatures will increase heat stress and does not prevent or cure COVID-19.
  • Identify and address local risk perceptions, myths, and concerns about heatwaves and COVID-19. Consider the ways in which heatwave messaging may be received or acted upon differently due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Proactively address these concerns in public messaging and provide clarity on the mitigating measures that are in place. (For example, people may be reluctant to go to cooling centres or to seek emergency medical help, even when critical.)
  • Encourage people to hydrate, eat healthy food and practise heat-avoiding behaviour (e.g. avoiding physical exercise, using low-tech cooling methods / air-conditioning, following guidance to cool themselves down).
  • Coordinate messaging across levels of government to minimize the risk of heatwave messaging contradicting COVID-19 messaging.
  • Use a range of communication channels to maximize the reach of messaging on heatwaves while maintaining physical distancing measures for COVID-19. This can include:
  • Broadcasts via television, radio and social media, to reach a large part of the population to inform them about the occurrence of a heatwave and/or heat–health risks.
  • Targeted media (radio, television, internet, posters), in places that vulnerable people visit frequently (parks, supermarkets, foodbanks, and pharmacies).
  • Mailed information (e.g. flyers, pamphlets) through the postal service, targeting individuals who may be at risk (e.g. using demographic data available to local governments).
  • Telephone hotlines that people can call with questions about coping with the heat. This involves advertising the hotline through relevant communication channels so people are aware of who to call.

Safety checks for the most vulnerable:

Review plans for in-home safety checks of the most vulnerable during hot weather in the context of COVID-19, ensuring the health and safety of outreach staff and volunteers through training and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Where possible, in-person outreach should be transitioned to telemonitoring services (telephone and videocall) to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. The most vulnerable people can be checked by: telemonitoring via a scheduled (daily) phone call or webcam (e.g. by social services/volunteers); creating telephone chains among vulnerable people (Mehiriz et al, 2018; De’Donato et al. 2018); or developing a buddy system that encourages local communities to check-in on vulnerable people remotely. For telemonitoring, a checklist can help staff to assess the safety of vulnerable people quickly and easily. Those that take care of vulnerable people (at-home services, volunteers, community/family members) should also receive targeted messaging on how to protect those who are vulnerable to heat as well as the available

References

De’Donato F., Scortichini, M., De Sario, M., de Martino, A. & Michelozzi, P. ‘Temporal variation in the effect of heat and the role of the Italian heat prevention plan’ in Public Health, 161, pp. 154–162, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.PUHE.2018.03.030

Lefevre, C.E., Bruine de Bruin, W., Taylor, A.L., Dessai, S., Kovats, S., & Fischhoff, B. ‘Heat protection behaviors and positive affect about heat during the 2013 heat wave in the United Kingdom’ in Social Science and Medicine, 128, pp. 282–289, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.01.029

Léon, C., Girard, D., Arwidson, P., & Guilbert, P. ‘Comportements préventifs des Français et impact des campagnes de prévention durant la canicule 2006’ in Évolutions, 7, 2007. http://inpes.santepubliquefrance.fr/CFESBases/catalogue/pdf/1048.pdf

Mehiriz, K.; Gosselin, P.; Tardif, I.; Lemieux, M.-A. The Effect of an Automated Phone Warning and Health Advisory System on Adaptation to High Heat Episodes and Health Services Use in Vulnerable Groups—Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 1581. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15081581