Selected Publications

COVID-19: Simple Answers to Top Questions - Risk Communication Field Guide Questions and Key Messages

State and Territorial Health Officials (S/THOs) play a critical role in the health security of our nation. The demands are many, and the margin of error is small. S/THOs must translate the best available public health evidence and science into actionable policy advice for elected leaders and other cabinet agencies. They must act as a credible, timely source of accurate information to a variety of stakeholders. Equally important, the SHO and the public health team must convey a clear, compassionate, and caring message to the public to motivate appropriate protective behaviors without instilling inappropriate fear. All of this must occur while leading and managing complex public health agencies strained under the demands of an emergency response.

The role is all the more complex in a rapidly evolving situation in which many unknowns remain. Overconfidence or utilizing an inaccurate mental model of an issue can lead to missteps and diminish public trust. It is critical for this reason to be very cognizant of what is known, what is unknown, what is controllable, and what is not controllable. This humility allows rapid adjustments to strategies and tactics and allows an accurate and credible message to be delivered to and received by the public and policymakers. 

ASTHO worked closely with Drs. Randall Hyer and Vincent Covello from the Center for Risk Communication/ to develop this communication guide to assist S/THOs in preparing to communicate with the public, media, and policymakers about COVID-19. It is openly acknowledged that knowledge of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and subject to many uncertainties. 

State and territorial health officials prioritized more than 70+ questions on COVID-19 for which these message map style answers were developed. Of course, a S/THO’s judgment will determine the most appropriate response to an issue in his or her jurisdiction. It is our hope that this messaging guide can provide S/THOs with a baseline of consistent messages across our nation. 

COVID-19:  Simple Answers to Top Questions will be modified and updated as events evolve, and more is known. 

COVID-19: Simple Answers to Top Questions: Risk Communication Field Guide Questions and Key Messages


Vincent T Covello, MA, PhD and Randall N Hyer MD, PhD, MPH | Association of State and Territorial Health Officials – Washington, DC


November 2020

Other Scientific, Peer-Reviewed Publications Authored by Dr. Covello and Dr. Hyer

  • Risk Communication.  In: Environmental Health: From Global to Local, 3rd Edition.  Frumkin H, editor.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. (in press)


  • Risk Communication.  In:  Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society.  Cockerham W, Dingwall R,  Quah S, editors.  Oxford: Blackwell.  2014


  • Disaster Risk Communication.  In:  Textbook in Disaster Medicine.   David S, editor.  Wolters Kluwer.  2012


  • Guidance on Developing Effective Radiological Risk Communication Messages: Effective Message Mapping and Risk Communication with the Public in Nuclear Plant Emergency Planning Zones.  NUREG/CR-7033. Washington, DC: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  2011 


  • Developing an Emergency Risk Communication (ERC)/Joint Information Center (JIC) Plan for a Radiological Emergency. NUREG/CR-7032. Washington, DC: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  2011 


  • Risk Communication, Radiation, and Radiological Emergencies: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques.  Health Physics.  2011 Nov; 101(5):511-30


  • Effective Risk Communications for the Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Threat: Communication Guidance for Local Leaders Responding to the Threat Posed by IEDs and Terrorism.  Department of Homeland Security.  Washington, DC.  2010


  • The Expedition Returns: Roles and Responsibilities.  In:  Expedition Medicine.  Bledsoe G, Townsend DA, Manyak MM, editors.  Cambridge University Press.  2009 


  • Risk Communication.  In:  Environmental Health: From Global to Local.  2nd ed.  Frumkin H, editor.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.  2009: 988-1008


  • Current Issues in Adolescent Immunization. Vaccine.  2008; 5:4120-34 


  • Strategies for Overcoming Challenges to Effective Risk Communication.  In:  Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication.  Heath R, O’Hair H, editors.  New York:  Routledge.  2008


  • Be Prepared to Use the Hot Mic to Counter Pandemics.  Medscape General Medicine.  2007; 9(4):39 


  • Effective Risk and Crisis Communication During Water Security Emergencies.  National Homeland Security Research Center, United States Environmental Protection Agency: Washington, DC. 2007


  • Risk Communication and Message Mapping: A New Tool for Communicating Effectively in Public Health Emergencies and Disasters.  Journal of Emergency Management.  2006; 4(3):25-40


  • Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Infection in Humans.  New England Journal of Medicine.  2005; 353:1374-85


  • Risk Communication.  In:  Environmental Health: From Global to Local.  1st ed.  Frumkin H, editor.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.  2005:988-1008


  • Best Practice in Public Health Risk and Crisis Communication.  Journal of Health Communication.  2003; (8)


  • Women’s Perceptions of the Risks of Age Related Diseases, Including Breast Cancer: A Research Study.  Health Communication.  2002; 14(3):377-395


  • Out of Africa, Medscape General Medicine.  2001; 3:3 


  • Risk Communication: Evolution and Revolution.  In:  Solutions to an Environment in Peril.  Wolbarst A, editor.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.  2001:164-178


  • Risk Communication, the West Nile Virus Epidemic, and Bio-terrorism: Responding to the Communication Challenges Posed by the Intentional or Unintentional Release of a Pathogen in an Urban Setting.  Journal of Urban Health.  2001 June; 78(2):382-391


  • Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Reacquiring and Using Adenovirus Types 4 and 7 Vaccines in Naval Recruits.  American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.  2000; 5:613-8 


  • Risk Perception, Risk Communication, and EMF Exposure: Tools and Techniques for Communicating Risk Information.  In: Risk Perception, Risk Communication, and its Application to EMF Exposure.  Matthes R, Bernhardt JH, Repacholi MH, editors.  International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.  1999:179-214


  • Telemedical experiences at an Antarctic station.  Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.  1999; 5:S87-9 


  • Genetic Privacy Legislation: Two Views.  An Issue Who’s Time Has Come.  Molecular Diagnosis.  1997; 2:85-7 


  • Risk Communication.  Occupational Health Practice, 4th ed.  In: Occupational Health Practice, 4th ed.  Waldon A, Edling C, editors.  Oxford: Butterworth/Heinemann.  1997


  • The Determinants of Trust and Credibility in Environmental Risk Communication: An Empirical Study.  Risk Analysis.  1997; 17(1):43-54


  • Industry Response to SARA Title III: Pollution Prevention, Risk Reduction, and Risk Communication.  Risk Analysis.  1996;  16(1):57-66


  • Risk Assessment Methods: Approaches for Quantifying Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks.  Plenum Publishing Co.: New York.  l993


  • Risk Communication and Occupational Medicine.  Journal of Occupational Medicine.  1993; 35(1):18-9


  • Risk Communication, Trust and Credibility.  Health and Environmental Digest.  1992; 6(1):1-4


  • Risk Communication:  An Emerging Area of Health Communication Research.  In: Communication Yearbook.  Deetz, SA, editor.  Newbury Park CA: Sage Publications. 1992; 15:359-73


  • Communicating about Environmental Risks: How the Public Uses and Perceives Information Sources.  Health Education Quarterly.  1991; 18(3):349-361


  • Evaluating Risk Communication Programs.  Environmental Protection Agency: Washington, DC.  1991


  • High-Resolution Linkage Mapping for Susceptibility Genes in Human Polygenic Disease: Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus and Chromosome 11q.  American Journal of Human Genetics.  1991; 48:243-257 


  • Molecular Studies of the Genetic Susceptibility to Type 1 Diabetes.  D. Phil. (Ph.D.) Thesis, University of Oxford, UK.  1991


  • The Insulin-IGF2 Region Encodes a Gene Implicated in HLA-DR4 Dependent Diabetes Susceptibility.  Nature.  1991; 354:155-9 


  • Public Knowledge and Perceptions of Chemical Risks in Six Communities.  EPA 230-01-90-074, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.  1990


  • Risk Comparisons and Risk Communication.  In:  Communicating Risks to the Public: International Perspectives.  Kasperson R and Stallen P, editors.  Boston: Kluwer/Reidel. 1990


  • What We Should Know about Making Risk Comparisons.  Risk Analysis.  1990


  • Issues and Problems in Using Risk Comparisons for Communicating Right- to- Know Information on Chemical Risks.  Environmental Science and Technology.  1989; 23:1444-9


  • Communicating about the Health Risks of Radioactive Waste.  Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine.  1989 


  • Effective Risk Communication: The Role and Responsibility of Governmental and Nongovernmental Organizations. Plenum Publishing Co.: New York.  1989


  • Issues and Problems in Using Risk Comparisons for Communicating Right-to-Know Information on Chemical Risks.  Environmental Science and Technology.  1989; 33(12):1444-9


  • Medical Waste: Risk Perception and Communication.  Medical Waste.  Albany: State University of New York Press.  1989


  • Principles of Effective Risk Communication.  In:  Effective Risk Communication: The Role and Responsibility of Governmental and Nongovernmental Organizations.  Covello V, McCallum D, Pavlova M, editors.  Plenum   Publishing Co.: New York.  1989


  • Risk Analysis: A Guide to Principles and Methods for Analyzing Health and Environmental Risks.  White House Council on Environmental Quality: Washington, DC.  1989


  • What the Public Thinks about Environmental Data.  EPA Journal.  1989; 15(3)


  • Informing People about the Risks of Biotechnology and Genetic   Engineering.  In: Safety Assurance for Environmental Releases of Genetically Engineered Organisms.  Fiksel J, Covello V, editors.  Berlin and New York, Springer-Verlag.  1988


  • On the role of persistent signaling and autocatalysis in the T-cell independent immune response.  Mathematical Biosciences.  1986; 78:193-202

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Drs. Covello and Hyer co-authored the popular World Health Organization handbook Effective Media Communication during Public Health Emergenices, as well as the widely-used communication guide for the 50 US states, Top Questions on Ebola: Simple Answers Developed by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Dr Vincent Covello Crisis Communications Expert

Dr. Vincent T. Covello

Dr. Vincent T. Covello has over 30 years’ experience in high-concern, risk, and crisis communication. He has advised over 400 of the Fortune 500 companies as well as over 500 government agencies on issues as diverse as Fukushima, Deepwater Horizon, 9/11, and pandemic disease outbreaks. Dr. Covello has been a professor at Brown University and at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. He has been a Study Director at the National Academy of Sciences and a Program Director at the National Science Foundation. He has published over 150 scientific, peer-reviewed articles and 25 books on risk and crisis communication. Dr. Covello received his BA with honors and MA from Cambridge University and his PhD from Columbia University. He is a co-founder and Principal of and the founder and Director of the Center for Risk Communication based in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Dr Randy Hyer Crisis Communications Expert

Dr. Randall N. Hyer

Randall N. Hyer, MD, PhD, MPH has more than 35 years’ experience as a doctor in public health. Dr. Randy has been educating people on topics ranging from disease outbreaks like COVID-19, Zika, bird flu, vaccines, as well as radiation and common medical conditions. As the Senior Vice President for Global Medical at Moderna, Dr. Hyer helped develop, communicate, and manage the global rollout of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. In 2017, he was pivotal in engaging the scientific, medical and policy communities to help achieve FDA approval of a new adult hepatitis B vaccine (HEPLISAV-B), the first vaccine using a truly novel adjuvant. He is the Vice President for Risk Communication at the National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurement, has advised the National Academy of Sciences, and lectures at Harvard University. Dr. Hyer has served as a U.S. Senate staffer, WHO medical officer and military liaison, and over 10 years as an executive in the private sector. He graduated with Distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy and earned the MD from Duke and PhD from Oxford. Dr. Hyer is a co-founder and Principal of and the Deputy Director of the Center for Risk Communication based in New York City and Washington, D.C.

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