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College of Arts and Sciences

  • Novel Corona Virus Microscopic view

Arts and Sciences faculty share insights on COVID-19

COVID-19 is more than a pandemic.

It’s also a historic event. It’s a social phenomenon. A source of stress.

Faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences have helped make sense of the pandemic by sharing insights from their disciplines with the university community and the general public. Their advice ranges from how families can grow stronger during the pandemic to how people can ensure they share accurate information about the virus.

Here are a few examples.


Sayward Harrison shared insights on building resilience during a pandemic. “This will be a time of reflection and change ..., and we can have a unique opportunity to chart new courses as individuals and as a whole,” she said.

Mark Weist told Columbia’s Morning News about strategies for families to manage the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. “There’s a lot of reasons to be positive. We’re going to move on past this,” he said. “I think it’s important to manage media and to manage social media, because there can be some inappropriate, negative messaging in the media.” Listen to his interview starting at the 29-minute mark in this podcast.


African Americans and people and people in rural areas are more impacted by COVID-19. Jason Cummings, a sociology professor specializing in health disparities across race, explained why for The Post & Courier and The State.

Matthew Brashears shared insights about how information about COVID-19 passes through social networks, sometimes getting changed incorrectly along the way. “While humans are pretty good at spotting and fixing errors, they also periodically make a mistake in that ‘fixing’ process that makes the error worse,” he said.

Environmental Science

One side effect of quarantines has been reduced travel and reduced pollution. Lori Ziolkowski, a professor in the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment, discussed the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in an interview with WIS 10, a local NBC affiliate. 


The global experience of the coronavirus is changing the way people experience their senses, according to Mark Smith, a history professor specializing in sensory history. "The way we see, hear, taste, touch and smell may never be the same again ... not because the senses themselves have changed, but because the context and environment in which we sense has been profoundly altered." He also gave an interview on the topic to the Spanish daily publication El Mundo.

Medical advice for staying healthy during a pandemic has not changed much in 2,000 years. Nukhet Varlik, a scholar on the history of plague, put COVID-19 into historical context, highlighting what the past can teach us about the present. “I can listen to my historical sources to find clues about that invisible phase,” she said.


Hunter Gardner, author of a book about ancient Roman plague narratives, shared how literature captures the experience of plague and reveals how efforts to contain disease affect society. “Contagion makes visible those social interactions that are most dear and familiar even as it destroys them,” she said.

Political Science

Katherine Barbieri analyzed how the coronavirus has shifted political stances in the United States and abroad. “It seems that COVID-19 arrived relatively late to change the outcome of the next presidential election,” she said.


Zhenlong Li is using data from Twitter to track how people are moving during the pandemic and how that correlates with the disease’s spread. He hopes his research will help predict and manage future outbreaks.


The genetics of the coronavirus reveal how the virus has traveled the globe. Bert Ely, a biology professor, and Taylor Carter, a PhD candidate in biological sciences, wrote an article for The Conversation  to explain how the virus's RNA can be used to track the outbreak. "These mutations behave like a passport stamp," they wrote. "No matter where you go next, previous stamps in your passport still show where you've been."

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