Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Zach Borus’

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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