While we have all been asking a lot of questions during the pandemic, Malia Jones (Community and Environmental Sociology) and her “Nerdy Girl” colleagues, Sandra Albrecht (Columbia University) and Tita Smyth Escobedo have been busy networking with an all-female team of interdisciplinary researchers and clinicians — as well as their social media channels — answering our questions on the topic. These experts are engaging the science and technology studies community and the world through their new social platform, Dear Pandemic. The team is educating and empowering their following during these times, while helping us navigate accurate content related to the pandemic on their channels.
In early-March, Jones, whose research emphasizes how where we spend our time affects our health as well as the spatial clustering of infectious disease and vaccines, realized that friends and colleagues were confused by all of the conflicting information being released about COVID-19 and the pandemic. She then reached out to friends and family about the pandemic — providing helpful, accurate information that they could trust. Her first email immediately went viral and then the information was shared on Facebook and later by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal and USA TODAY.“I was on Dr. Phil the next week.”, Jones shared. “I was drowning in media requests and reached out to my long-time collaborator in the vaccine hesitancy space, Alison Buttenheim at Penn. She was also fielding a lot of questions and posting on her personal Facebook page. While I was taping Dr. Phil (remotely!), Alison put together our Instagram account and launched it on March 10th.”. The Dear Pandemic Facebook page was launched two days later and their following grew quickly. The duo, who originally met during their training a UCLA, quickly recruited colleagues to help prepare content and expand expertise in other areas. By the end of the month, their team included an all-female team of ten Ph.D.-trained experts from several disciplines. Six months later, they continue to share blog posts and resources several times daily. The ten women are originally connected through a variety of venues — from research networks to formal committees to active, social outlets and interests.
Dear Pandemic and its contributors haven’t only been featured on Dr. Phil and USA Today, which itself is quite impressive. The writers and their well-received articles have been featured on the evening news, Nature, the New York Times, Time Magazine and CNN. Their articles continue to be helpful to researchers and the general community, as everyone continues to navigate the ever-changing routines, regulations and suggestions. Helpful, honest advice like Jones’ article on Thanksgiving gatherings this year are putting readers’ minds at ease and answering a lot of questions that we are all asking.
Earlier this year, the Holtz Center awarded Jones, Albrecht, Smyth Escobedo and their campaign’s mission its full support through the 2020 Outreach Fellowship Program. This annual prize is just one of the many funding opportunities that the Holtz Center offers to its members each spring, as well as UW-Madison faculty, staff and students who strengthen science and technology studies scholarship and research. The fellowship awarded the all-female team $5,000 in flexible funds to further develop and enhance the Dear Pandemic mission across its social media platforms.
This funding will support further development of new content and reaching Spanish-speaking audiences, by translating the Dear Pandemic content into Spanish on a second all-Spanish mirror website. Smyth Escobedo and Aparna Kumar are currently assisting the team with language translations and grammar. Holtz Center funding and a new translator assisted the team with launching the second website, Querida Pandemia this week. The team is enthusiastic about launching more Spanish-language content, as readers have expressed the need for quality, curated, factual COVID-19 information in Spanish. Jones shares that there are a few other efforts to translate the resources that are being circulated from English to Spanish, but that there is still a greater need for translated content. “We get comments all the time from folks in Guatemala and Peru and Mexico that they have been working to translate our posts themselves. Not to mention, there are hundreds of thousands of Spanish-speaking people here in the United States that need information.”.
The new I Have Questions podcast was also recently launched with a few opening episodes. Longer interviews with experts on the topic and more content will be added as the podcast expands and grows. Jones is seeking scientists and experts across various fields of science to interview on the podcast. “From ethics and privacy concerns with respect to contact tracing, to virologists”, Jones asks experts wanting to share something about their field and COVID-19, to email her to discuss an upcoming interview on the podcast.
Masks and face coverings continue to be a popular topic covered on their social platforms. “People still have so many questions about masks.”, Jones shares. “We post something very specific about masks and it sparks ten new questions about masks.” Mask-related content continues to be popular, but many other topics related to the pandemic continue to go viral, like this post about the causes of death and an article about the reopening of schools.
“I feel a lot of pride when I see people tagging each other on the comments of our posts on Facebook or Twitter,” Jones reflects fondly, “… and using our information to push back on the spread of bad information within their own social media networks.”.
You may engage with Dear Pandemic and ask your questions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The team also hosts a live interactive session on Facebook each Saturday morning at 9:30 am. Malia Jones will also be a panel participant during the Cap Times Idea Fest, where she will be speaking about vaccines and vaccine hesitancy in early October.