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Eck Institute members host webinar to combat COVID-19 myths, misinformation

| Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Heidi Beidinger-Burnett and Mary Ann McDowell, both of the University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global health, are taking on misinformation and misunderstanding of the coronavirus pandemic with their new webinar series called “Consider This! Simplifying the COVID-19 Conversation.”

Beidinger-Burnett serves as the director of the Eck Institute for Global Health and president of the St. Joseph County Board of Health. McDowell, an associate professor of biological sciences and a member of the Eck Institute for Global Health, is an expert in infectious disease and immunology. Through their combined backgrounds, the two doctors said they hope to increase the scientific literacy of the Notre Dame community regarding the virus and public health policies.

“We were finding misconceptions or myths about the science and public health of COVID-19,” Beidinger-Burnett said. “The idea for us is to simplify the conversation for people to be more comfortable with the terminology and to be more in control of the information.”

Consider This! aims to cut through the growing distrust in the media and correct the common myths of the virus so that the Notre Dame and St. Joseph County communities can better protect themselves.

McDowell said the myths that concern her the most are the beliefs that herd immunity should be embraced, that the coronavirus pandemic is over and that a widely available vaccine will arrive prior to election day or early next year.

“We have a president who was saying, ‘We don’t need a mask, oh, it’s not masculine, I don’t need it.’ Remember, he made fun of Joe Biden,” Beidinger-Burnett said in an interview. “Well, Joe Biden was adhering to what CDC and all the others were telling us that we needed to be doing to safeguard ourselves. So that void in leadership has significantly contributed to the myths and the rumors that have been spread about this, and the distrust in the science.”

The interview with Beidingerr-Burnett and McDowell was conducted after the news of U.S. President Donald Trump’s​ and ​University President John Jenkins’ diagnoses with COVID-19 had gone public.

The webinar series will be conversational in tone while also drawing upon the expertise of over 15 specialists in immunology, public health and public policy.

“I think that we have a science literacy problem all over the world but [also] in the United States,” McDowell said. “And you know, I would say that’s really a fault of the scientists, in some ways, because we haven’t done a good job of communicating our work and making it accessible.”

The two co-hosts want their series to be as accessible and conversational as possible to students and community members. They hope this approach can alleviate fears and increase cooperation with community guidelines set by teams of public health experts. McDowell also encouraged students to contact [email protected] with any questions or myths they want the series to address.

Monday night, Consider This! went live for the first time. The two co-hosts began by discussing the current virus statistics in St. Joseph County. They continued on to a segment titled “Rumor Has It,” in which they confronted “herd immunity parties” on college campuses and the dangers they pose to young adults.

The episode concluded with a conversation with University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. Miranda has a background in the field of children’s environmental health and, while provost, teaches in the applied and computational mathematics and statistics department at Notre Dame.

The inaugural episode emphasized one thing: COVID-19 is still around and something that communities will have to learn to live with. Next week, Beidinger-Burnett and McDowell will talk with Brian Baker, department head in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, and Jeffery Schorey, a professor in the department of biological sciences.

Registration for the webinars can be found under the Eck Institute for Global Health’s website.

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