By Zach Taylor
Columbia, Mo. (Feb. 4, 2021) — Doctors aren’t alone in the fight against COVID-19; communications specialists are playing a significant role as well.
Mariah Cox (BJ ‘19, MA ‘20) started working as a communications specialist for the Jackson County Health Department in Kansas City, Missouri, in June 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” she said. “It keeps me on my toes, to say the least.”
One thing that Cox likes about her job is that every day is different. As the coronavirus pandemic has evolved, so too has the Jackson County Health Department’s communication strategy. This means Cox is constantly coming up with fresh approaches to new challenges, which keeps things interesting.
“When I first started in June, our county issued a mask mandate,” she said. “This was the first big challenge we had to overcome. From October through December we were more focused on keeping people safe during the holidays. And now we are working on the vaccine rollout.”
Originally, Cox felt like the biggest challenge for vaccine communication was going to be convincing people to take it. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case. “There’s been way more interest in the vaccine than we anticipated,” she said. “So now our biggest challenge is that we don’t have enough vaccines to give out to everyone who wants one.”
To gauge community interest, the health department created a tool where members of the public could sign up and answer questions to determine where they fit into the state’s distribution plan. At the moment, vaccines are only available for those with the highest risk.
Most days, Cox is writing press releases, creating social media content, updating the health department blog with new stories and responding to inquiries on social media. In general, her job is to provide information for the public in the context of their specific community. “We get information from the CDC and other official sources but it’s always geared toward a national audience,” said Cox. “Most of my job is taking this information and making it accessible to Jackson County residents.”
While growing up in Chicago, Cox didn’t envision herself in the communications profession. When she first arrived on Mizzou’s campus, she wanted to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a biology professor and researcher. After taking some of the introductory biology coursework, she decided that her family’s profession wasn’t the right fit for her.
“I’m more of a creative person,” she said. “I like writing and coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. So I decided to combine my love for science and passion for creativity by becoming a science communicator. That’s how I ended up doing strategic communication in the J-School.”
Cox was an active member of the community with a strong dedication to service during her time at Mizzou. She was a science writer for the Bond Life Sciences Center, a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, a Mizzou Alternative Breaks participant, marketing coordinator for Sustainability Week and a newsroom intern for NASA.
Cox feels fortunate that she gets to act upon her passion for service in her current role. “It feels good to know that I’m helping people,” she said. “This is a crazy time. There’s tons of misinformation out there and I know the work the Jackson County Health Department does is really helping people stay informed and safe.”
Updated: February 5, 2021