I've been thinking a bit about how covid has been communicated with the public, and what strategies are effective or not. Here is a strategy that, if I could go back in time to mid-March, that I would have had the medical officers of health do:
First, explain that the projections of people infected and the resources needed are guess work. Either we're going to have an Italy situation where we don't have the resources and have to turn people away, or we are going to have empty beds. Obviously a public health professional would prefer the latter.
This is a new disease, so we have to be very careful. That is why we are asking that everything shut down for now, to limit the spread, and give us time to learn about it. That is also what is scary about this disease. As we find out more about it, we will know more about specific means of prevention and treatment. This knowledge will allow us to be more specific as to how we handle it later on.
This disease poses a risk, and place that in the context of other risks that people take on a daily basis (i.e. driving a car, crossing the street). We know what precautions to take to manage said risks, and we take these precautions while going about our day. I think doing this gives people useful information they can use to protect themselves without being panicked that covid is going to get them around every corner.
Of course, the million dollar question is, how long will this last? I think that speculation about a "new normal" in the early days set the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy where people just accept that covid will last a long time. As we've seen in a few isolated cases, it really doesn't have to. The answer I would have given is: covid could go on for a long time, but we can do something about it. If we follow the steps and take precautions (most importantly, wearing a face mask) we will limit the spread and it will be over more quickly. I would also balance this out by explaining that the lockdown measures to fight covid will hurt, and there is no way around that. For this reason, it's important that we take precautions and follow the steps, get this thing under control right away, and that will reduce not only the negative impact of covid, but also the negative impact of the anti-covid measures. Basically, the faster we beat this thing, the faster we can return to normal. I would also point out that the lockdowns will be more challenging for some people, so to be mindful of that and stay in touch with people you know who are in that situation.