@DearPandemic: Meet the women answering burning questions big and small about COVID-19

By Jillian Kramer

National Geographic

March 10, 2021

When her father-in-law was diagnosed last July with terminal lung cancer, Wisconsin native Terri Watermolen began to plan for the inevitable funeral that would take place during the coronavirus pandemic. Unsure how her family could safely and responsibly mourn a loved one, Watermolen turned to trusted sources of information: the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dear Pandemic.

“I knew Those Nerdy Girls would help,” she says.

Those Nerdy Girls, as they call themselves, are the women scientists, scholars, and clinicians who have made it their mission to answer people’s burning questions about the pandemic.

Launched on March 10, 2020—a day before the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic—the group of volunteer experts has become a valuable resource for thousands of followers who turn to its website and social media channels every day for reliable COVID-19 information. On Dear Pandemic’s pages, Watermolen found sage, straightforward information that ultimately helped her plan a short, socially distanced burial.

Most of their followers are women, a demographic that has been disproportionally affected over the past year by lockdowns, layoffs, and other disruptions. A September 2020 McKinsey report shows that mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for housework and caregiving during the pandemic. Women have lost more jobs than men in the last year. At the same time, women remain over-represented in essential jobs such as health care and grocery store checkouts, more often putting them on the front lines.

On top of all that, women are often their family’s information seekers, says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford University who studies gender inequality. This additional work “comes with tremendous costs to individual women themselves,” Cooper says. Though studies on the emotional and mental-health toll of the pandemic remains scarce, some early research suggests women have suffered more psychiatric disorders than men during the pandemic, including depression, anxiety, loneliness, and insomnia. Polls suggest women are more likely to worry about both the health and economic effects of the pandemic on their families than men, too.

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