Health Literacy and COVID-19

Health Literacy and COVID-19

Health literacy is a critical skill, as we weave our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what is “health literacy”?

Health literacy is how easily people can access information that affects their health, how well they understand that information, and how effectively they apply what they’ve learned to their lives. Being health literate lets people make wise decisions about health issues.

At present, this means learning about the virus and how it is spread, knowing how to keep ourselves and others safe, and adapting our behaviours quickly to ensure everyone’s safety. Each of us has a responsibility to learn as much as we can: our individual behaviours are key to preventing the spread of the virus and minimizing its impact. And providers of the information are responsible for making the messages clear, in different forms.

The golden rules are clear:

  • Stay 2m apart from people outside your household.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • If you feel ill, stay home.

Generally, we’re good at understanding and following these rules.

However, the waters become muddier when the rules are more relaxed; there is more to learn, think about, understand, and remember. We need to be able to answer these questions: Where can I get information on what I can do? What does it mean? Who can I ask, if I have questions?

The NWT Government’s COVID-19website,, has up-to-date information on:

  • People and Family
  • Travelling and Moving about
  • Child Care, School and Learning
  • Communities and Events
  • Self-Assessment and Testing
  • Business and Work

You can call 8-1-1 for general information about COVID-19, or 1-833-378-8297 for more information on the rules.

There’s another side to health literacy in this pandemic: the excess of information on the internet, and on social media in particular, about the virus; not all of it reliable. Unfortunately, the pandemic has created many armchair experts. As a result, the internet has a lot of “fake news” about the virus and how to prevent it. This makes the situation more complex—and more dangerous. We have to be careful to follow the advice of the people who know best—in this case, our public health professionals. There’s still uncertainty around the virus and the disease, but they have up-to-date knowledge and can provide us with appropriate advice.

In the current situation, it’s important for us all to become health literate: to stay informed, act responsibly, and keep everyone safe.

Helen Balanoff, Project Manager


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