While our fading memories and historical revisionism have turned the
2009 pandemic of H1N1 influenza into little more than a footnote at
best and a joke at worst, it was not that way at the time.
It was scary! We had visions of 1918. Bodies in the streets and
Contagion-like public unrest. People were, rightly, asking questions
about masking, about shelter-in-place kits, about vaccines. And while
the CDC did an amazing job utilizing old and new methods of
communications to get their message out, not everything can be
communicated with words on the screen, on paper, over the radio, or by
talking head. And that’s the essence of today’s social media emergency
community in public health best practice.
On April 29, 2009, in the very first hours of H1N1, CDC posted a
video to YouTube about donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off)
an N95 respirator mask. While it seems like an easy thing to do, if
you’re staring in the face of a pandemic and the prospect of not
enough masks to go around, how you put on and take off a mask can
make them last longer. And keep you protected from the virus.
Obviously shot on the CDC’s campus with actors who were, well, whoever
was there and had a few minutes to spare. It not only filled a
critical need (disseminating visual information), but did it on the
cheap. Nothing fancy here. Any one of us could have done the same with
a smartphone and a couple of masks. Any public health department could
have done it. Maybe next time we will.