These experts from the UW-Madison faculty and staff have agreed to comment on breaking news, ongoing developments and trends in their areas of expertise. If you need help arranging interviews, email University Communications.
COVID-19 Crisis: Looking Forward
Numerous experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison are available to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and provide tips and information to help people navigate related changes to their daily lives.
Ajay Sethi on: The Delta variant surges
While the U.S. and many parts of the world are re-opening, the highly contagious Delta variant is surging in many areas. Ajay Sethi, an expert in epidemiology and population health, says all three vaccines in use in the U.S. are highly effective against the Delta variant and urges eligible, unvaccinated people to get started on the vaccine as soon as possible.
Sethi says, "The vaccines work against the Delta variant, so it's not imperative that vaccinated people wear masks in public. Understandably, some will do so anyway, especially if they have family members yet to be vaccinated."
David Weimer on: The true value of the the pandemic dog
Many people adopted dogs during the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is waning, will they keep them? Dave Weimer, a professor of public affairs and political science, is available for interviews about his research on the cost-benefit relationship of dogs and why it matters.
Jeffrey Pothof on: Novavax trial shows promising results for fourth COVID-19 vaccine
A new type of COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective against the original coronavirus strain, and 93% effective against variants, manufacturer Novavax reports. The company will apply for authorization in the United States after it finishes developing a quality control test, according to its chief executive.
Jeff Pothof, an expert in quality improvement and patient safety, can discuss.
Jirs Meuris on: Reimagining the post-pandemic workplace
Working from home was a huge adjustment for many. But now, employees and employers are rethinking the workplace. Jirs Meuris, an expert on human resource practices, can discuss.
“Preferences have changed for remote work,” Meuris says. “To understand the consequences of that, we have to look at both sides — the employees and the employers.”
Nancy Wong on: Retail therapy
While people stocked up on toilet paper and cleaning essentials during the height of the pandemic, now shoppers are pivoting to items such as cosmetics and colorful clothing. Nancy Wong, an expert on consumer decisions and luxury marketing, can discuss this shift to spending money on products that speak to optimism and being together.
Heather Kirkorian on: Time to wean kids from excessive screen time?
Heather Kirkorian, an expert on the impact of screen media on young children and an associate professor of human development and family studies, is available for interviews about how parents and caregivers can re-think how much screen time is appropriate for children with the approach of summer and the ebbing of the pandemic in the United States.
“To manage screen time, families should establish clear and consistent expectations about when, where, how, and with whom screens can be used. A good family media plan will focus on educational content, healthy social connections, and lots of conversation about what kids are doing on screens.”
Tony Goldberg on: Epidemiology after COVID-19
Epidemiologist Tony Goldberg is availble to discuss how the study of emerging pathogens has changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID taught me that pandemics are like stock market crashes," says Goldberg. "You know they're going to happen, but you can't predict when or how bad they'll be. Coming up with better ways to forecast these seemingly random events is the next frontier in biology and computer science, in my opinion."
Evan Polman on: The pandemic made us more authentic on social media
Evan Polman, an associate professor of business at the Wisconsin School of Business and an expert on behavioral science, is available for analysis of how we've changed our behavior on social media.
Polman says, "The pandemic has normalized more authenticity on social media. Instead of browsing through over-idealized posts by influencers, people are more interested in honest posts -- sloppier posts! -- and I think this trend is here to stay. There will be more attention to posts showing a less polished, more realistic slice of life."
Thomas Friedrich on: Burnout among scientists, viral sequencing framework, improving the regulatory environment
Thomas Friedrich is a professor of pathobiological sciences and an expert on pandemic viruses. He is available to provide analysis on:
- Viral sequencing and its application for other emerging pathogens. How to build a sustainable framework, now and for the next pandemic.
- Moving toward a simpler, more nimble regulatory environment to support research and diagnostics while still promoting safety and privacy
- High burnout rate among scientists, physicians and public officials whose pace of work accelerated. How to help them recover?
- Career development of junior scientists, many had to put their work on hold during the pandemic.How will this impact the scientific enterprise?
Sarah Halpern-Meekin on: Learning in a pandemic
Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and of Public Affairs, uses qualitative and quantitative methods to study romantic relationships and low-income families’ finances, as well as government policies directed at these areas. Her research includes examining how social poverty shapes people’s well-being and decisions.
"During the pandemic, children's learning and connections to supportive adults and institutions outside their homes were disrupted, though not equally across all children," Halpern-Meekin says. "Unless we take steps to address the consequences of these disruptions, they may exacerbate preexisting disparities among children along socioeconomic, English-language-learner, and racial/ethnic lines."
Denia Garcia on: Racial inequalities of pandemic impact and recovery
Denia Garcia, an expert on the ways in which inequalities are experienced and reproduced, can discuss how the pandemic has impacted certain communities harder than others.
"COVID-19 has exacerbated racial inequalities across health, social, and economic outcomes," Garcia says. "After the pandemic, Black and Latino communities will experience a slow recovery that will have long-lasting consequences."
James Conway on: Kids and vaccines
As Pfizer applies for emergency approval for use in younger children, the question of when children will receive vaccines is still being answered. Dr. Jim Conway, professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and an infectious diseases and vaccine expert at UW Health, is available for interviews on the subject.
“When the time is right, it will be vital to vaccinate children if we hope to provide broad immunity for Americans against this dangerous virus,” Conway said. “However, children are not small adults and we must make sure these vaccines are safe for them.”
Ajay Sethi on: Herd immunity
With more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 by the day in the U.S., but vaccine rates beginning to slow, experts say it may be difficult for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity. However, Sethi, an expert in epidemiology and population health, says we may want to think about herd immunity at a smaller scale. "Certainly a household, a dormitory, or group living facility in which everyone is over 16 years of age can have herd immunity, if nearly everyone is vaccinated," Sethi says. "At a movie theater or concert, a workplace, or sporting event – herd immunity can be attained if most everyone in those environments is vaccinated."
However, he notes: "Herd immunity for an entire city, zip code, or just a neighborhood will not be achieved until children under 16 are able to be vaccinated, but we can still reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities by taking proper precautions."
For a video of Sethi discussing herd immunity, visit: https://news.wisc.edu/badger-talks-video-is-herd-immunity-attainable/
Haley Vlach on: Will your memory bounce back after the pandemic?
Haley Vlach is an associate professor of educational psychology and an expert in memory development. Vlach says the pandemic was a challenge for short-term and long term memory retrival, but says, given the opportunity, our brains and memory development capacity should bounce back as we resume our lives after the pandemic.
Catalina Toma on: Online dating profiles adding vaccination status
Are you vaccinated? It could be an awkward dating question during COVID-19 times. But the Biden administration announced Friday that it's teaming up with dating apps to add vaccination badges and “super swipes” for people who've gotten their coronavirus shots.
Catalina Toma, an expert on the social and psychological effects of communication technologies (online dating, social networking sites, email, instant messaging, etc.), can discuss.
Experts on today’s news
Christine Whelan on: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Double standards and sexualization of women
The Olympic female Norwegian beach handball team was fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms while male players are allowed to wear shorts, according to the European Handball Federation. Why the different standards? Christine Whelan can discuss the growing conversation about how women are treated in sports.
"Athletes are celebrated for their physical abilities — strength, agility and skill," Whelan says. "Antiquated dress codes that demand women look 'pretty' while being powerful reinforce a superwoman ideal that hurts all women. Team choice should win the day."
Claudia Reardon on: Tokyo Olympics: Mental health of athletes
All that training doesn’t make elite athletes any more immune to mental illness than the rest of us. Dr. Claudia Reardon is reminded of this every day as she meets with athlete-patients in her sports psychiatry practice.
“I think the general perception of their physical prowess does a disservice to athletes – they may not be asked during routine medical checkups about problems they have with mood and anxiety, Reardon says. “And the pandemic, with so many changes in athlete competition and training schedules and teammate support networks, has really created additional challenges for mental health.”
Reardon serves as co-chair of the International Olympic Committee’s Workgroup on Mental Illness in Elite and Olympic Athletes and co-directs the International Olympic Committee’s Diploma Program on Mental Health in Elite Sport. A professor of psychiatry and UW consulting sports psychiatrist to Badger Athletics, she is available to address any topics of mental illness in elite athletes. This includes depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, suicide, and others.
Laura Albert on: Tokyo Olympics: Athletes testing positive for COVID-19
As more athletes test positive for COVID-19, what is the potential for an outbreak? Laura Albert, an expert in mathematical modeling and a professor in industrial and systems engineering at the College of Engineering, can discuss.
“With 11,000 athletes participating in the Olympics, there are bound to be a few positive tests. However, this is not reason for concern,” Albert says. “There are many precautions in place that will likely prevent large COVID-19 outbreaks, including daily COVID-19 testing for the athletes, high levels of vaccination among the athletes and coaches (>80%), and a ‘bubble’ that limits athletes’ travel outside of the Olympic village.
“We know a lot more than we did a year ago, and that knowledge is helping shape precautions and risk management practices in the Olympic village and in the competitions. With more than 80% of athletes being immunized, any COVID-19 cases are unlikely to propagate throughout the population of competing athletes.”
Marianne Fairbanks on: Tokyo Olympics: ‘Cool’ uniforms
Athletes will be able to beat Tokyo’s heat with the help of Team USA Olympic outfitter Ralph Lauren. The opening ceremony uniform will mark the debut of its RL COOLING jacket, which includes a device that allows wearers to self-regulate the temperature. The battery-powered device, located on the back of the neck, creates a cooling sensation that lasts, even in the most oppressive heat.
Marianne Fairbanks, an associate professor in Design Studies at the School of Human Ecology, can speak about advances in uniforms.
Manuel Teodoro on: Water conservation and the California drought
Drought this summer in California is exacerbating an early fire season, hampering the agricultural industry and draining reservoirs. Manuel Teodoro is an expert on utility management and utility rate equity and affordability. Teodoro works on directly with governments and water sector leaders across the United States. He’s an assistant professor at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He can discuss:
- Water utility efforts to conserve through pricing and regulation
- Regulatory decoupling as a conservation measure
- Local and state politics of water conservation
- Water utility policy lessons learned from 2014-2017 California drought
J. Michael Collins on: Recession during pandemic shortest in history but severe
The recession in the midst of a global pandemic lasted just two months ending in April 2020, the shortest on record, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But while it was short, it was unusually for severe with employers cutting 22 million jobs in March and April, and the unemployment rate hittng 14.8 percent, the worst level since the Great Depression. Gross domestic product fell by more than 10 percent.
J. Michael Collins, an expert on consumer finance, argues that while most people came out of the pandemic financially unscathed, it had extreme effects on others.
"The healthy economy at the beginning of the pandemic, combined with a strong government response that included stimulus payments, was helpful," Collins says. "But the pandemic affected a small number of people very deeply. Most had a two-month recession, but many people had a 12-month recession, especially those in service and hospitality industries."
Steve Vavrus on: Extreme summer weather
Steve Vavrus is a senior scientist at the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research and an expert on extreme weather and climate change. He is available for interviews about this summer's heat waves and floods, climate change and expected future conditions, and atmospheric circulation changes.
Vavrus says, "To the extent that climate change ie playing a role in this summer's extreme weather, most of the influence is probably coming from a simple shift toward generally warmer summers as a consequence of a warming climate (for heat waves) and more moisture in the atmosphere in a warming climate (for floods). However, an interesting and potentially important secondary influence is that a warming summer climate may cause jet stream winds to generally weaken over middle latitudes and thus favor slower-moving weather systems. That, too, can lead to extreme weather by causing more stagnation during times of intense heat or heavy rainfall. A recent study just made this connection for increasing floods in Europe, which is a very timely finding in light of the devastating flooding there last week."
Kevin Chung on: Tokyo Olympics: Going for the gold – and endorsement deals
Kevin Chung, an assistant professor in marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business, has written about the value of celebrity endorsements on sales in sports and can discuss the value of an Olympic gold medal for an athlete’s brand and endorsement opportunities.
“The value of the gold vs silver medal is significant in regards to signing a new sponsorship,” Chung says. “With this being said, gold medal is now becoming more of a ‘necessary but not a sufficient condition’ for athletes as brands want to make sure medal winners are engaging AND their personalities/values align well with the brand. This is especially amplified today as athletes have their own platform to reach people where good/bad behaviors are often exhibited live.”
Kevin Ponto on: Tokyo Olympics: Wearable technology
Augmented Reality and wearable technology will also play big parts in this year’s games, allowing viewers to feel closer to the action and athletes to monitor performance.
Kevin Ponto, an associate professor in the Design Studies Department at UW–Madison whose work spans the disciplines of art, science, engineering and design, can discuss. His area of research centers on virtual and augmented reality and in the integration of emerging technologies.
“I will be excited to see how emerging technologies reshape the way athletes train and compete as well as the way fans can enjoy the games remotely,” Ponto says.
Oguzhan Alagoz on: COVID cases up
COVID-19 cases are rising in many states, following the easing of public health restrictions and the emergence of newer, more transmissible virus variants. Alagoz, an expert on infectious disease modeling, says he expects gaps in vaccine coverage will lead to two different pandemic experiences as the Delta variant continues to spread.
“Unfortunately, with all the restrictions being lifted, I am expecting an increase in the case counts in Wisconsin and across the United States due to emerging COVID variants,” Alagoz says. “Places where vaccination rates are low may, unfortunately, experience high case counts and high hospitalizations and deaths. On the other hand, areas with high vaccination rates may see an increase in case count but deaths and hospitalizations won't be as high as before. I am especially worried for places that have high population density and low vaccination rates.”
Chris Kucharik on: Drought intensifies in southern Wisconsin
From March to May of 2021, Madison received 5.05 inches of rain, making it the 12th driest spring since records started in 1869. Drought is intensifying across southern Wisconsin, causing concern for crops. Chris Kucharik, an expert on agroecosystems, agroclimatology, and severe weather, can discuss.
Jonathan Patz on: Heat wave.
Weekend temperatures in the American West will be dangerously high, rising more than 20 degrees above seasonal norms in the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Patz, director of UW–Madison's Global Health Institute and an expert on the effects of climate change on human health, has published studies on how heat waves drive hospital admissions and the way air conditioning — which can be a life-saver in extreme heat — is also a major contributor to rising temperatures.
James Conway on: Will we need COVID-19 vaccine booster shots?
James Conway is medical director of the UW Health Immunization Program, and professor of pediatrics and infectious disease specialist at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. He is available for interviews about what we know - and don't know – regarding how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts with full vaccation and whether booster shots will become necessary.
“There is still so much to learn — how long immunity persists after vaccines, what kinds of reactions people might have with additional doses, and do the vaccines need to be updated for new strains of SARS-CoV2 — that it’s just too soon to know whether we will all need to have booster shots like we do for the flu,” he said.