First it was Tom Hanks, one of the most beloved actors of all time, telling the world he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. By all accounts, Hanks handled the announcement with tact, grace, and dignity. In shouldering the burden as one of the most high-profile cases of novel Coronavirus on the planet, the A-lister reassured his fans and set the bar for public announcements of positive diagnosis.
As he recovered, his messages became a soundtrack for many, describing the boredom and isolation of quarantine, joking about losing at cards to his wife over and over again. Hanks signed off with a wish that has become a mantra across the globe: “Flatten the curve.”
Several big names from the world of sports were also diagnosed. Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert publicly embarrassed himself by making light of the disease just a few days before announcing he was infected. That announcement effectively led to the suspension of the entire NBA season. Soon, one of Gobert’s teammates also tested positive. For his part, Gobert seemed to understand just how bad he messed up, profusely apologizing while thanking fans for their genuine concern for his health. He made his mistake, in public and on camera, and he did his best to make it right. Tough sledding, especially as he became the co-headline with the suspension of the season while trying to get through his own illness.
Now, two members of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers announced positive results of COVID-19 tests. The team did not disclose the names of the players and, as of this writing, they have not come forward. In a statement, the team said the players would receive good care and be “closely monitored by medical professionals.”
As a result of this string of high-profile COVID-related issues, NBA teams are telling players and staff to stay home. Soon, other organizations may follow suit. In a situation as unprecedented as this one, many are copying language and messaging that seem to work.
On March 16, actor Idris Elba revealed he had tested positive. He announced he did not have any symptoms, but that he was tested because he had been exposed to someone else who had also tested positive. His public statement was an understated suggestion that others get tested, whether they have symptoms or not, if they had been around someone who was symptomatic.
Picking up that thread, actor Kristofer Hivju, who Game of Thrones fans will surely recognize, said he was self-isolating after testing positive. He described his symptoms as a “mild cold,” but echoed the important warning that many people are of higher risk and that his responsible behavior would “avert a crisis at our hospitals.”
The common denominator here is that the message that comes after the revelation of illness is one people are paying close attention too. Whether it’s a careful, accurate message, or a joke that goes sideways, people are watching for meaning and takeaway that goes beyond words.