My Coffee chat with Dr. Vincent Covello, Dr. Randall Hyer, and Stephan Margolis

My Coffee chat with Dr. Vincent Covello, Dr. Randall Hyer, and Stephan Margolis

My Coffee chat with Dr. Vincent Covello, Dr. Randall Hyer, and Stephan Margolis

On May 14, 2020 I had the opportunity to share a virtual coffee chat with my friend, mentor, and advisor, Dr. Vincent Covello. He was accompanied by his colleagues Dr. Randall Hyer and Stephan Margolis. We talked about COVID-19, health, pandemic, and even wall paper. The conversation was fascinating. The recording can be found here.

In this article, after their bios, I summarize some of the highlights from our conversation.

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My Crisis ‘n’ Coffee guests:

Dr.Vincent Covello is the director of the Center for Risk Communication; he is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in risk and crisis communications. He has been a senior advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and numerous other organizations. Dr. Covello is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books. He is a consultant, writer, speaker, teacher, frequent keynote speaker, and trainer on evidence-based high concern communication skills. Dr. Covello has been a professor of environmental sciences and clinical medicine at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Covello received his BA with honors and MA with from Cambridge University and his doctorate from Columbia University.

Dr. Randall Hyer is the deputy director of the Center for Risk Communication; he is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in risk and crisis communications. He has been a medical officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) and a senior advisor to the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other organizations. Dr. Hyer has published widely in the fields of medicine and public health. Dr. Hyer graduated with Distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his MD from Duke University and his MPH and PhD from Oxford University.

Lieutenant Stephan Margolis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Risk Communication. Mr. Margolis has decades of experience as a practitioner, trainer and program developer in crisis management and decision making. His work on COVID-19 has been focused on the needs and concerns of special populations, including first responders. Recently retired from Major Crimes Division, Los Angeles Police Department, Stephan has had 41 years of law enforcement experience. His policing experience included managing field operations in countering Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime, Gangs, and Narcotics. He has held positions where he managed major international investigations and domestic complex incidents. He has consulted with national and international agencies as well as the White House. Mr. Margolis has received numerous awards for leadership and innovation. He has been an adjunct professor in Behavioral Science Graduate School at California State University.  In addition to specialized law enforcement training and graduating the FBI National Academy, Stephan holds graduate degrees in philosophy, behavioral science and public administration. Stephan has also one extensive work with renowned primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall.

Coffee conversation highlights:

Covello “This is the first time we have to keep revising the material that we have.”

Covello “We have to stay up to date with a moving target. That’s what’s been unique about the whole COVID experience.”

Hyer “This is a common enemy and we’re finding we have more in common now which will help us to defeat this.”

“This is a coming together and the business of communication is even more important as we face this public health crisis.” ~Dr. Hyer

Margolis “Law Enforcement manages people’s behaviors. Now all the rules have changed and people are expected to act very different.”

Margolis “At the end of the day the data beats down the arguments and we’ve seen extraordinary social change at so many levels.”

Hyer “The business of the second wave is very topical. Respiratory pandemics with similar contagious rates see waves come and go. There’s also a seasonality component we’re yet to see.”

Hyer “From a communications perspective we need to keep in mind that social distancing will be even more important.”

Hyer “Testing and tracing will be very much a part of dealing with the second wave.”

Hyer “Vaccinations for influenza will be important too. If we can immunize against flu that will decrease the burden on the health care system.”

Hyer – “We’ll see a lot communications support during the second wave for the need for social distancing.”

Covello “It strikes me the second wave will bring a whole host of new challenges – operational and communication challenges.”

“Challenges will include apathy; what’s more important economy or life? It will also raise more civil liberty issues.” ~Dr. Covello

Margolis “The second wave will raise issues we’ve never dealt with before such as the perceived invasion of privacy.”

Margolis “Understand that crises by themselves are fundamentally different from our day to lives so we’ve often under-resourced to solve the problem and failure has catastrophic consequences.”

Margolis “Leaders need to understand that problems morph.”

Margolis “Organizational processes, decision processes and having the playbooks.”

Hyer “This pandemic is going to change our behavior, without question, for a long period of time.”

Hyer “COVID 19 one day will be in the rear view mirror. But there will be things about it that stay with us like a renewed importance for public health and security.”

Covello “I hope in five years we aren’t all still wearing masks.”

Hyer “The successful response to COVID is the public’s willingness to support. This has huge communications implications.”

Margolis “There’s going to be a new social norm to come out of this.”

Hyer “Acknowledge uncertainty or the limits of our knowledge. Acknowledge what we do know. Recognize a small degree of optimism goes a long way.”

Covello “Lifelong campaign to eliminate absolutes from our messaging.”

Covello “Scientists often want to speak in absolutes.”

“The biggest danger is social media has changed the playing field enabling confirmation bias.” ~Dr. Covello

Covello “One of the most important discoveries in risk communications is the complicated nature of trust.”

Margolis “Leaders have a tendency to move in strong assumptions so they can get to strong conclusions.”

Covello “One of the most important discoveries in risk communications is the complicated nature of trust.”

“Leaders have a tendency to move in strong assumptions so they can get to strong conclusions.” ~Stephan Margolis

Covello re: Empathy “These are learned skills, teachable.”

Covello “When the communicators display care and empathy as the prime aspects of their messaging the levels of trust go up exponentially.”

Dr Covello “The facts play a very small part in determining risk acceptability. There are 20 factors and the most important is trust.”

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