CDC Communication

CDC Communication November 23, 2020

The abbreviation CDC refers to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the. It is a U.S. government agency under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The CDC generally is regarded as the world’s premier source of information for health and therefore for COVID-19.

I have been noticing that sometimes I don’t think the CDC communicates very well to the public. An example is today’s CDC message which says, “The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer.” This sentence is abstract and lacks an active verb. It is written from the perspective of professionals in the medical community who use such jargon to identify their concepts.

A caveat is that the CDC was very late in admitting, only last week, that wearing a mask during this virus pandemic can benefit both the wearer and others. The CDC had been failing to admit, even though many scientists had been saying so for months, that wearing a mask can benefit the wearer. That is, if we wear a mask, it can prevent droplets or aerosols exhaled from others penetrate our mask. Previously, the CDC had only said that wearing a mask helps prevent the mask wearer from giving COVID-19 to others.

When the CDC makes such public statements as above, it should abandon such jargon and write so the average person can understand. It therefore appears that some CDC statements for public consumption are not written by professional writers who can do that. That is a big mistake when this COVID-19 is making so many people deathly ill.

I don’t think the above expression “source control” is clear. Does the CDC mean a mask wearer who has COVID-19? The above message would have been more understandable if written as follows: “Masking protects both the wearer and others,” that is, if you want to use the word “masking,” which does make the sentence shorter. Generally, the more brief the better. However, most people don’t talk that way, but say, “Wearing a mask.” The main rule in writing for common readers is to “write like you talk.” When we do that, our readers don’t usually have to pause and ponder what we mean. I think “masking” slows the reader down just a little, whereas “wearing a mask” doesn’t.

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