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Cover of Emily Mendenhall's book Unmasked: blue background, drawing of a facemask
Cover of Emily Mendenhall’s book Unmasked

In this book, Emily Mendenhall writes about what happened in her hometown, Okoboji, a small Iowan tourist town, when a collective turn from the coronavirus to the economy occurred in the COVID summer of 2020. State political failures, local negotiations among political and public health leaders, and community (dis)belief about the virus resulted in Okoboji being declared a hotspot just before the Independence Day weekend, when an influx of half a million people visit the town.

For Mendenhall, the story is both personal and political, as she grew up in Okoboji, and her family still lives there. As the events unfolded, Mendenhall was in Okoboji, where she spoke formally with over 100 people and observed a community that rejected public health guidance, revealing deep-seated mistrust in outsiders and strong commitments to local thinking. Unmasked is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of where people put their trust, and how isolationist popular beliefs can be in America’s small communities.

Read more about the book.