When people ask me what I am doing with my English degree, I never imagined I’d be telling them that I am using it to fight a pandemic.
As I envisioned my life after graduating college in 2019, I saw myself in a bustling newsroom, reporting on the biggest stories of the day, gallons of black coffee running through my veins. Now, nearly two years later, I find myself in my 10th month as the Covid-19 communications coordinator for Washington state’s Snohomish County—the first county in the U.S. to record a Covid-19 case.
Like so many others in my graduating class, the pandemic destroyed my career plans. After working for my university’s newspaper, I knew that I felt a deep emotional connection to journalism. It suited my natural curiosity and love of storytelling. I also enjoyed the responsibility of keeping my college community up-to-date about the latest news on campus.
Throughout 2019 and early 2020, I searched for any entry-level reporting position. After applying for almost 60 journalism jobs and hearing nothing, I decided to broaden my search to anything involving communications. One of the main reasons I wanted to be a journalist was the ability to inform the general public, so I believed it would still be rewarding to build those communications skills outside of a newsroom setting.
My friends and I have found it challenging to get noticed by recruiters as our younger age means that we still have limited work experience on our resumes. However, after going through the application process, I learned that the Snohomish Health District hired me to be their Covid communications coordinator specifically because of my young age. Part of my job is providing insight into how young people are thinking about the virus. In July 2020, people between 20 and 29 years old had the highest infection rate in our county, and it was necessary to try to curb the spread of the virus through social media campaigns targeted at that age group.
When I think about the people fighting Covid-19, I picture scientists in a lab working on developing a vaccine, or nurses caring for patients in the emergency room. I didn’t imagine that making TikTok videos, choosing the best hashtag to use on Twitter or Instagram and contacting actor Christ Pratt—who grew up in Snohomish County—to ask him to make a #MaskUp video would also be part of the fight to mitigate infection rates. But social media has been a crucial tool in providing clear and cogent information to people in Snohomish during the pandemic. It has allowed us to quickly update them on increases or decreases in case counts, direct them to nearby vaccination sites and has offered a source of connection within our county.
The sense of urgency, the responsibility to the community and the feeling of being at the center of a fast-moving crisis that I experience in my job today are all the things that excited me about working in a newsroom. The sting of those initial career rejections has disappeared and in many ways I’m thankful for them, as they led me to this valuable role where I am able to provide a necessary service to the public.
Emily Joy Oomen is a journalist from the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been featured in BBC, Vice, and Buzzfeed. You can find her on Twitter @emilyjoyoomen.
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