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COVID Communication Confusion Can Be Cleared Up, Says CMU Professor

Keith Srakocic
CMU Professor Baruch Fischhoff says communication "not done responsibly" contributed to confusion around the pandemic.


On today's program: Critics say mixed messages and botched communication could have worsened the coronavirus pandemic; parents scramble to find childcare and learning assistance for their school-aged children; and nature organizations reach out to Black environmentalists. 

Repairing coronavirus communications starts with “talking to people”
(00:00 — 5:57)

More than five months into the pandemic, people across the country have criticized mixed messages and confusion from government officials.

“Communication isn’t the mystery, but it’s just not done responsibly,” saysBaruch Fischhoff, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, and Engineering & Public Policy who studies public perception of risk.

He says clear and consistent communication from top leaders at the beginning of the pandemic could have helped slow the spread of the virus and improved public response to the virus.

According to Fischhoff, the first step towards repairing communications is talking to people. “Let them tell you what they know, what their concerns are, who are the sources that they trust,” he says. “And then there’s research on how you make those potentially hard to understand things clear to people.” 

Early learning advocates say without child care, “There is no economic recovery”
(6:06 — 13:00)

A new academic year is set to begin and most school districts are starting the school year online, leaving parents who can’t work from home scrambling for child care that will also help children keep up with their school work.


Federal aid has kept the childcare industry in the state afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study. However, without more aid, more facilities could close. 

These new learning situations put an added strain on both parents and child care facilities, saysCara Ciminollo, the executive director ofTrying Together, an early childhood learning advocacy group, andToni Beasley, the director ofThe Homewood Early Learning Hub & Family Center.

Most childcare centers in Allegheny County provide before and after school care for school-aged children, and have extended their services to provide care and support during the school day. 

Federal subsidies in Pennsylvania have also been expanded to apply to child care during the school day, as well as before and after school care. But these changes will not help every family, says Ciminollo.

“There are a lot of families who are still on the subsidy wait list or aren’t quite eligible for subsidy and did not have in their family household budget a plan for covering costs related to child care during the school day,” she says. 

Ciminollo and Beasley say the pandemic has spotlighted the role child care has in the economy.

“There is no economic recovery without the sustainability of child care,” says Ciminollo. 

Nature organizations say they’re reaching out to Black environmentalists, but some say they need to do more
(13:08 — 17:48)

Christian Cooper was racially harassed while he was birding in Central Park more than two months ago. Many environmental organizations responded with statements promising to work on better supporting Black nature enthusiasts.


StateImpact Pennsylvania’sDonna McDermott reports onwhat that support could look like, and on the community members working to make change. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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