Trending Now: #FaceCoverings

As government agencies around the country address the current public health emergency, communicators have been charged with developing effective and creative messaging for residents, a unique challenge to say the least. Over the next few weeks several 3CMA members will share the details and outcomes of their COVID-19 information campaigns, continuing the founding principle of 3CMA that ideas are for sharing.

By Lenka Wright 
Director of Communications | City of Santa Clara, California

I like fashion. Face coverings – not so fashionable. Usually. That sort of sentiment was pre-coronavirus pandemic. Now the jury of public opinion is coming close to a verdict.

In some places, you don’t have a choice on whether or not to be masked. Seven states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – require residents to wear face coverings when they visit essential businesses or use public transportation. Many local jurisdictions, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, are issuing mandates for individuals to wear face coverings whenever they leave their home. 

This approach has proven controversial across the country. Within 24 hours, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine backed off his original order to require retail customers to wear masks, saying “it went too far.” In Flint, Mich., a Family Dollar security guard was fatally shot after telling a customer that her child needed to wear a face mask to enter the store. In the meantime, there’s a new cultural phenomenon known as mask shaming. That’s when someone covering their face against COVID-19 calls somebody out for not doing the same. 

In the latest Shelter-in-Place order that went into effect May 4, 2020, the County of Santa Clara, Calif., required the wearing of masks both by business employees and customers only after weeks of firmly suggesting their usage when in stores for essential needs. 

For the City of Santa Clara, we listened to the public health experts who strongly urged the wearing of face coverings to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. We heard from residents and business owners who were concerned about asymptomatic people unknowingly infecting others. For those of us who had been working in the Emergency Operations Center since March 11, donning a mask had become second nature. But not so much for the community at large. Plus, we had to make sure the public knew it was okay to wear a cloth face covering after hearing in the news, day after day, that there weren’t enough N95 masks for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. That’s when the Stay Covered, Santa Clara social media campaign was born.

Using the hashtag #SantaClaraHasitCovered, we asked Santa Clarans to take a selfie of themselves wearing a face covering and share it with us. We created a webpage with local rules, tips on wearing a face mask properly, and how to make one, including a video demonstration from U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams. At first we showed images of staff doing essential activities, such as getting gas or going grocery shopping. Of course, we already had a head start on ordering uniquely designed masks off Etsy or Amazon. We also humanized the wearing of face coverings by showing a caregiver dropping off food for a senior who’s at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19. ShowUsYourSelfie - City of Santa Clarita, CA

And then the selfies started trickling in. One was from a family. Some were from members of the Reclaiming Downtown group. Others were in Star Wars-themed face coverings to celebrate “May the 4th Be With You” day. While they may be hiding SantaClaraHasItCovered-Residents-FaceCoverings - City of Santa Clarita, CAbehind a mask in the selfies, these mask wearers are all proudly showing the community they care by having it covered. 

But what’s not exactly hidden is our social media engagement numbers, especially on Twitter, which are going sky high. While we’ve seen a significant increase in most of the City’s COVID-19 related communications, the #SantaClaraHasItCovered posts are getting more views, more shares and more likes than we’ve experienced since the outbreak spread to the West Coast. Plus, the engagement’s about triple what we normally would see for an average post.

Maybe it has something to do with recent pop culture. In its third season, FOX’s “The Masked Singer” remains a hit show. It features celebrities singing behind a mask and keeping everyone guessing, wondering who’s next to get kicked off and be unmasked. For those of us not secretly performing on TV, wearing a face covering can save lives while also leaving a little mystery. Are they smiling? Are they sneering? Or is that my next-door neighbor who looks very different with a camo face covering on?

The City Communications Team took a risk with this unique outreach to try to change people’s behavior and normalize the wearing of a mask. It’s a serious topic. It involves public health, and it involves a highly contagious disease. It’s also a time when so many have been sheltering at home for weeks, feeling isolated and looking for “some good news.” 

In times of prosperity and in times of need, Santa Clara has it covered. And I hope you do too – with a face covering. Fashionably, of course. StayCoveredSantaClara-graphic