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Letter to the Editor: There’s more to COVID-19 studies than meets the eye

Surface level data can only tell so much of the story.
Image by Morgan La Casse

After talking with a few hundred people in the student unions at the University of Minnesota, it appears many do not believe COVID-19 is “over ” or it won’t affect them.

Rather than social distancing or masking, the majority of people have gone back to their pre-pandemic behaviors. I am writing to support the piece written on Oct. 19 “Return to In Person Work”, but there are some additional considerations I want to put forward. After hearing people on campus talk about COVID-19, my impression is people want to feel they can advocate for themselves and others when they feel sick by staying home. 

I’m a student working with a faculty member from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health on a project about vaccine hesitancy, collecting data about COVID-19, vaccinations, and masking. I spend around eight hours a week administering anonymous surveys at the Student Unions on both Saint Paul and East Bank campuses. You might assume a survey is just a question and response, but in order to learn what people really think I have been trained to ask the survey questions as if I am conducting an interview.

In other words, the survey responses are often summaries of brief conversations. This allows us to advance a second goal, which involves creating a space for people to talk and learn more about COVID-19.

  Some common themes in the survey responses from people on the University campus are:

  1. In general, people most trust their doctor, followed by government agencies, like the CDC, and researchers to give them information about vaccines. 
  2. While most people say that others are no longer concerned about COVID-19 they tell me that COVID-19 is still a potential issue. 
  3. When asked about whether they currently wear a mask, some tell us they do not wear one at all anymore while others wear it when they are feeling sick, are going to a big event, going to the hospital, or traveling on a plane; many people indicated they would mask if they were asked.  
  4. Not everybody knows about the new vaccine for fall 2023 or that it is available at Boynton.

Matisse Bolstrom is a fourth-year student employee with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, who works to conduct surveys about perceptions of vaccines, COVID-19 and masking. A link to an ongoing study can be found here.

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