Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Abby Adams’

Framing: How Dickinson County denizens comprehended and handled the pandemic

In Government, University research on March 31, 2021 at 7:45 am
Antique postcard saying Greetings from Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Lake Okoboji (which is a misnomer; there is no Lake Okoboji, but there are West Lake Okoboji and East Lake Okoboji) postcard, circa 1939. Copyright 2012 by Steven R. Shook. Used with permission.

Emily Mendenhall arrived in Okoboji, her hometown in Iowa’s Great Lakes region, in June 2020 – just as the area became a COVID-19 hotspot. Confirmed cases burst from just eight to 200 in one month. As she later learned, there probably were even more, as many young people skipped testing, accepted their fate and nursed themselves back to health. Cases that tourists contracted in Dickinson County also may have been attributed to their home counties or states.

It was a drastic contrast to the situation Mendenhall, her husband, Adam Koon, and their two elementary school-aged daughters had left.

“I came from D.C., where everything was shut down and everyone was taking it so seriously,” said Mendenhall, a professor of global health in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “And then I came to a place where everyone’s like, ‘whatever.’”

As I described in my previous post, Mendenhall and Koon, an assistant scientist in the International Health Department in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, joined with others to understand why so few Dickinson County citizens heeded public health advice – sometimes with dire consequences. They interviewed nearly 100 residents of the summer destination, most of whom live there year-round.

We’ll look into their fascinating – but in some respects unsurprising – analysis.

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Sun, sand, suds and COVID: An anthropologist returns to Iowa and probes the virus’s spread

In Government, University research on March 24, 2021 at 7:35 am
Boats tied together in a row with swimmers and floating air mattresses at one of the Iowa Great Lakes.

A common sight on the Iowa Great Lakes: Boats lashed together as their occupants drink, mingle and swim. Credit: Copyright 2021 by Tom Gustafson, VisonAIRy Drone, via Instagram.

Every summer, Emily Mendenhall and her husband, Adam Koon, leave their home in the Washington, D.C. area and return to her childhood haunts in Dickinson County, Iowa, home to the Iowa Great Lakes tourist region. It’s a chance for them and their two daughters to see Mendenhall’s parents and sister, enjoy the lakes and relax.

Summer 2020, however, was drastically different. When the family arrived in June, Dickinson County was in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, but an anything-goes atmosphere prevailed. Merchants were counting on summer visitors – who boost the local population from 17,000 to around 100,000 – to pay year-round bills. Tourists wanted to ignore coronavirus concerns and enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and partying.

Few government officials seemed interested in acting to slow the disease, which has now killed more than 5,000 Iowans. “I was so surprised that everyone was just kind of like, oh well,” Mendenhall says.

The exceptions were Dickinson County public health officials, who could use little more than public relations to fight the pandemic’s local impact.

Mendenhall and Koon were troubled. So, with the help of family and friends, they used their unique combination of skills to dissect the psychology driving this sometimes-dangerous behavior.

They exposed how Iowans’ social, political, economic and emotional histories and values led them to embrace or disdain public health measures, often to the detriment of public health.

What the couple and their colleagues learned could help public health workers better understand and cope with pandemic-related behavior in other rural, urban or suburban settings.

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