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DearPandemic.org: “Nerdy Girls” Counter COVID Misinformation One Question at a Time

Topics:

I heard that my dog can give me COVID-19! Is this true? 
Can mRNA vaccines change my DNA?
Is it okay to let friends use our bathroom?
Can otters get COVID-19? 
Do I still need to wipe off my groceries? 

In March 2020, a group of researchers, nurses and clinicians launched the website DearPandemic.org to provide answers to questions from the general public about all things related to the coronavirus and COVID-19.

Three of the founding members for this effort included Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, Shoshana Aronowitz, PhD, FNP-BC, and Ashley Ritter, PhD, CRNP – clinicians and academics from the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Nursing, University of Pennsylvania. They are joined at Dear Pandemic by more than a dozen experts from institutions and organizations across the United States, rounding out an impressive all-women team of self-described "Nerdy Girls".

As a trusted network of scientists, clinicians and scholars, Dear Pandemic has been recognized in the past year by a variety of institutions and journals, including Public Health Nursing and National Geographic Magazine, and featured in news/media outlets like STAT News, the New York Times, MedPage Today, and BBC News Service.

Countering COVID-19 Misinformation 

In addition to providing a platform for accurate, curated information, the mission of Dear Pandemic is to counter misinformation appearing on the web, particularly in social media, about COVID-19 and the therapeutic and prophylactic efforts to confront the disease. 

In an article featured in Public Health Nursing, Dear Pandemic: Nurses as key partners in fighting the COVID-19 infodemic, Drs. Ritter and Aronowitz describe this rapid spread of information, accurate and inaccurate, as an “infodemic” with the consequence of perpetuating confusion, fear and mistrust, and of propagating information counter to public health messaging. Among their conclusions: the key to confronting misinformation is to accelerate the spread of good information, including evidence‐based public health messages.

Thus, DearPandemic.org.

Launched in spring 2020, Dear Pandemic – named as a riff on Dear Abby – soon circumscribed the social media pantheon from Facebook, to Instagram, to YouTube.

A typical question post: Can mRNA vaccines change my DNA?

Presented in a question-and-answer format, and accessibly written for the general public, Dear Pandemic has addressed more than 1,000 questions to date in individual postings, including more than 100 in Spanish. Question topics range from the complex (reviewing immunity, clinical symptoms) to the practical (staying safe in public, talking to hesitant relatives about the vaccine), to the frankly odd (questions about COVID transmission among birds, bees and otters).

The many Q&A postings are alongside more than 50 live Q&A videos in which the Nerdy Girls discuss relevant and evolving issues.

When interviewed recently by Penn Nursing, Dr. Ritter explained the impact of Dear Pandemic:

“Dear Pandemic has demonstrated that consistently publishing high-quality content outside a peer-reviewed venue can result in incredible impact—personal behavior change, informed nodes of trust to further disseminate factual information, and resources for community providers navigating constantly evolving knowledge.”

What's Next?

Recently, the editors of Dear Pandemic made an exciting announcement that they would soon be taking questions on issues beyond COVID-19 and the pandemic.

They invited their many followers and the public to send questions on a wide range of issues within the authors' collective areas of expertise, including sleep, demography, aging, mental health, substance use, human behavior, communications, happiness, other infectious diseases, immunology and vaccines.

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The Penn Physician Blog is a resource for health care professionals featuring Penn Medicine physicians and their research, innovations, programs and events. 

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