Episode 30: Words Matter | KNKX

Episode 30: Words Matter

Jan 21, 2021

 

Living during a global pandemic is inherently stressful. Stress can negatively impact how we make decisions.

“And so when people are feeling that stress, then cortisol floods their brain, and it really impairs people's ability to process information," says Meredith Li-Vollmer, a risk communicator at Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Li-Vollmer says if people can't process information, if their cognitive function is impaired, then that's going to really affect their ability to digest information and to make good choices.

Throughout the pandemic, public health officials have known that the words they say will affect people’s behavior, which can help determine how many people live or die. There’s an art and a science to crafting language in just the right way so that people will listen and make choices that will keep them safe. This is the focus of Li-Vollmer’s job.

 

One unique way she does this is by drawing and writing comics. Back in 2018, Li-Vollmer wrote a comic marking the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic. Little did she know that her look back at the past would soon become a modern reality. 

 

In this episode of Transmission, Li-Vollmer talks with KNKX's Will James about rising to the challenge of being a risk communicator during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and about what people in her field might have done better to motivate the public to follow health guidelines.