Telling the Story between COVID and Air Quality

Explanation and Reflection of the Podcast

COVID-19, a word that is not unfamiliar to anyone. Do you think you know enough about it? If so, please answer the next questions: how is coronavirus transmitted? What factors do you think may have influenced the spread of the virus? (Check the answers if you are ready→)

At one point before this project, I thought I knew COVID pretty well myself. But the story of COVID is much more complicated than we thought. As a virus that is primarily transmitted in the air, did you ever imagine that the air might influence its ability to spread or the symptoms of infection? Does the impact of COVID differ between communities?

To answer our own questions, Cynclaire and I started our investigations. We refined the research question to: does bad air quality exacerbate the severity of COVID, whether in transmission or mortality, especially in areas of low-income status or in communities of color? Unlike the rigorous structure of papers, we want the podcast to be accessible enough that anyone could become a listener. Therefore, it should not be filled with jargon or rigid presentations of data. We want everyone to be able to learn what they are interested in, become empathetic, and generate new thoughts.

With this goal in mind, we planned the podcast by dividing it into five episodes, each about 10 minutes long. The shorter length of each podcast is more conducive to the audience receiving fresh knowledge and reduces the time-demand for each episode.

Summary of Our Podcast Idea

The first of the five is a general introduction to the entire project. We briefly introduced our research question, podcast structure, and background of the research, including the timeline of COVID-19, and the long history of environmental inequality in the United States. This episode is more about trying to get people to emotionally understand the starting point of our project and be interested in following our podcast.

After that, Cynclaire and I prepared the material and worked on the scripts for episodes four and five and two and three respectively. Episodes two and three focus on the relationship between the virus itself and air quality, while episodes four and five look at how environmental justice issues play out in this relationship and the meaning behind it. We also have brief interviews with each of the two doctors.

These are some paragraphs from the script I wrote. We started to work on the podcast at the beginning of October.

It is also worth mentioning that from the second episode onwards, our podcast takes the form of an interview in order to make the listener feel more involved and to make it easier for everyone to understand the information. The person in charge of the main investigation becomes the interviewee, while the host takes the general viewpoint of the audience, directing the questions step by step to our research question and giving his or her emotional understanding at the right moment. For example, after I explained the definition of the fecal-oral route, Cynclaire expressed his belief that this viral route is closely related to improper waste disposal, further demonstrating that the environment could be one of the factors for the different impact of viruses on different communities.

I also considered the audience’s science background and information’s verifiability when designing the second and third episodes. The second episode serves as a buildup to the third. We introduced what a virus is and its structure, and talked about the difference between coronavirus and influenza virus. This less complex biological background will keep the anticipation of Episode 3 alive.

In the third episode, due to a large amount of in-depth biological knowledge and controversial ideas, I skimmed over the reasons why air pollution can exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 (Check our paper if you are interested→). Instead, I focused on information that we were more concerned about in our lives, including how coronavirus is transmitted and the difference between the droplet and airborne transmission.

In general, we tried to keep the language, communication style, and content simple and interesting. From my own point of view, I wanted to present scientific knowledge without being boring, and Cynclaire’s part was more applicable to common life. This experience gave me a taste of environmental education in addition to the academic background related to this research topic. It taught me that “storytelling” is an essential skill for all scientists. The purpose of any research is to disseminate discoveries and use them to help more people live better lives.

Finally, I want to say that I still can’t believe that two months have passed since the first episode of our podcast! We really put a lot of thought into this podcast, so WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Don’t you want to hear what we’ve come up with?!!

Featured Image Source: SOPA Images/Getty Images

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