Skip to main content

UW-Madison COVID-19 experts available: Mathematical modeling, co-parenting, food safety and supply, more

April 14, 2020

MADISON – Numerous experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison are available to discuss the impact of COVID-19 and provide tips and information helping people navigate the challenges to their daily lives.


Paul Barford is a professor of computer science and an expert in computer networking with a focus on measurement and analysis of Internet data. He can provide analysis on the durability of the Internet during the high-usage national isolation period.

“The research we have done suggests that for the most part, the Internet will continue to function normally. Applications like email and the web will be largely unaffected by people working from home because the Internet load will be transferred from corporate access to home.”



Jordan Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics and the author of the book, “How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.” He can talk about the forecasting models being used to predict the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic, both their structure and their limits.



Bradley Pierce, director of UW–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center, and Ankur Desai, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, can talk about global air quality improvements during the coronavirus epidemic. Pierce can also discuss ozone precursor emissions, as observed from space using the new European TropOMI sensor.




Benjamin Futa, executive director of UW–Madison’s Allen Centennial Garden, has more than 10 years of leadership experience in public gardens, where he has witnessed first-hand the power and potential of green space to make communities better. Futa notes that gardens of all scales, public and private, foster respite, retreat, healing, and recovery, and many people are in need of these benefits as they endure the COVID-19 pandemic. Gardens also provide food, keep our air and water clean, and support critical wildlife. “And they’re simply beautiful,” he says.

“Gardens can save the world,” says Futa. “They nourish the mind, body, and spirit. And anyone can garden in their own way. You don’t need an acre of land or a community garden plot. If you have an indoor plant on a windowsill, you’re gardening.”

Contact:, (574) 310-9623 (cell)

Blog entry, “You Can’t Cancel Nature,”

Allen Centennial Garden:


Bret Shaw, associate professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication and environmental communication specialist for the Division of Extension, is an expert in strategic communication designed to encourage behavior change related to environmental and health-related issues. He can discuss the role of communication and social psychology to influence the public to adopt certain practices, such as social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Using strategic communication and behavior change principles to encourage people to adopt practices such as physical distancing is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Shaw says. “Well-intended efforts to influence behavior change often depend on sharing information, but it is well known that information alone is typically insufficient to change behavior. Using principles from social psychology and strategic communication, we can make a difference in influencing people to adopt behaviors that prevent the spread of illness and save lives.”

Contact:, Twitter: @BretShaw1


Barbara Ingham, professor and extension food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science, can discuss the safety and security of our food supply as it relates to COVID-19, as well as the steps that consumers can take to help ensure the health and safety of family and friends.

Specifically, she can answer questions along the lines of:

  • What do we know about the safety of take-out food and grocery store items, and how should those be handled?
  • Is COVID-19 going to make us sick through the food we eat? How is it different from a foodborne illness like salmonellosis?
  • Are we going to run out of food? What does it mean when I see empty store shelves?
  • What are general food safety guidelines that individuals should be following right now?

“At this time, perhaps more than any other, it’s important to keep our family and friends food-safe,” says Ingham. “There are easy steps that all of us can take to make sure that the food that we choose and prepare for ourselves and our families is safe to eat.”

Ingham is sharing COVID-19-related food safety information on her blog at


Margaret Kerr, an assistant professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the School of Human Ecology, can advise on successful strategies for parents living apart to manage childcare under “Safer at Home” restrictions, a topic she recently covered in an article for UW Extension.

“The COVID-19 pandemic can make co-parenting especially difficult as parents try to maintain custody arrangements under ‘Safer at Home’ initiatives,” she says. “Parents may worry about the increased risks of exposure when their children are spending time in two different households. The best thing they can do is keep open lines of communication with their children’s other parent and remain flexible as circumstances change. And as always, they can reduce stress for their children by not arguing in front of them or talking negatively about the other parent.”



Mary Beth Collins, executive director of the UW Center on Community and Nonprofit Studies, can discuss how third-sector agents have stepped up to address the needs of their communities locally and globally, including across borders, even as they brace for severe funding challenges ahead.

“We have an opportunity to reconsider the way we structure our systems and societal supports, and indeed, many community, nonprofit, and civil society leaders and change agents have been trying to raise awareness about these issues for a long time. We should follow their lead in crafting solutions and help share the stories of those most impacted.”



Paul Mitchell, professor and extension cropping systems management specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute at UW–Madison, can discuss how the pandemic is affecting farms and agricultural businesses, including social distancing on farms; the need for farm operation plans; impacts on spring planting; input supply disruptions; falling commodity prices; and USDA crop insurance programs. He can also discuss how new programs created under the federal CARES Act impact farms, including the Paycheck Protection Program and the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act.

Mitchell has developed and assembled a variety of helpful resources for farmers at

“Agriculture is an essential industry and we are asking famers and agricultural professionals to carry on their work during this pandemic, despite the risk to themselves and their families,” says Mitchell. “It is important to provide practical guidance to farmers during this time. The new laws passed as part of the federal pandemic response, for instance, include programs that can help farmers protect their businesses and support their employees during this pandemic. These include the Paycheck Protection Program and the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act.”

Contact:, 608-320-1162 (cell) Twitter: @mitchelluw


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted food supply chains, preventing some food and agricultural products from being processed or sold into their existing markets. While some products can be effectively diverted for other uses, there are some that do not have outlets and require disposal. Disruptions to the supply chain for dairy products, for example, have resulted in excess raw milk that exceeds the current storage capacity at milk processing facilities. This is impacting dairy operations in Wisconsin, where some farms have been asked to dump their milk. Down the line, it is possible that other agricultural or food products—particularly crops or other dairy products—may also need to be relegated to the waste stream.

Rebecca Larson, an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, is a biowaste engineer and can provide information on methods for handling, processing and land applying these agricultural products to ease operational issues while protecting the environment.

“Many of the food products, particularly milk, can be added to manure systems and land applied using traditional techniques,” says Larson. “However, farmers should consider changes to the characteristics of their manure streams when adding food products as it will increase odors during degradation, may cause operational issues in manure handling systems, can increase manure gas production which poses human health risks, and may require additional considerations when land applying to protect the environment.”

Guidance for farmers is available at Note: Horacio Aguirre-Villegas, a scientist in Larson’s lab, is available to answer media questions in Spanish. His email is

More experts can be found at and in these tipsheets from:

Tags: media, media tips