MADISON, Wis.— Malia Jones never thought the email she sent earlier this year would spark a team effort attracting more than 70,000 readers.
But that’s what happened after the associate scientist in health geography at the University of Wisconsin - Madison offered some practical pandemic advice to family and friends in late winter.
Jones is the co-founder of Dear Pandemic, an effort by more than 20 female researchers and clinicians to provide information in a way that’s easy for everyday people to digest.
“What we hope to achieve is to affect public health and reduce the number of cases in the United States and elsewhere by giving everyday people who are readers of our page practical information about how to be safer,” Jones said. “We’re also trying to impact people’s mental health and help them feel more confident and navigate the information overwhelm and have a trusted source that they can go to and rely on that is consistently well-vetted scientific information.”
Dear Pandemic has more than 70,000 readers on four media platforms. Over the course of the past 10 months, the staff has published more than 700 essays on topics ranging from wiping down groceries to staying safe while supporting small businesses.
“When we set out to do this, we had no idea where it was headed,” Jones said, “We do feel like it’s really successful. We hear all the time from our readers how much they value the information. They really value they can trust us.”
One of the recurring topics — or misconceptions — Jones and the team encounter relates to the lethality of the virus.
“We’re still getting a ton of resistance about, ‘Do people really die of COVID or were they going to die anyway?’ How man people die? How dangerous really is it?” she said during a week where 3,000 Americans died in a single day.
It was the same week mass vacations got underway in England and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was eyeing vaccine approval in the United States.
“I would have never guessed it was possible to develop an effective vaccine (in 10 months). I’m really hopeful the vaccine will be the tool that finally helps us get ahead of this thing,” Jones said. “We have a lot of challenges ahead for that; it’s going to take a long time to roll out and there are a lot of people who feel very hesitant about a vaccine developed on this timeline, so that’s our next direction in Dear Pandemic. We take those concerns very seriously and we’re going to be addressing them.”