In the second episode of Social Distance, Dr. James Hamblin and Katherine Wells get ready for the long haul. Hamblin, an Atlantic staff writer, and Wells, the executive producer for Atlantic podcasts, are friends and colleagues trying to figure out what to do amid the pandemic.

Hamblin catches Wells up on the latest developments, lays out the difficult decisions ahead, and reminds her to keep things in perspective. Plus, a few disinfecting tips.


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Some questions that Hamblin answers:

The House passed a measure granting paid sick leave to some workers. Why is that so important?

“In Brooklyn and lots of other places, you can’t just miss even a couple days of work and still make rent. And people need to know that that’s in place or else people will just keep working.”

Why have we been so slow to ramp up our testing?

“If we had a real good testing capacity, we could be real strategic about what we need to shut down and what we don’t, who can do what, and how long things can last, instead of these sort of blanket ‘All schools in the state are going to shut down.’”

How bad is it going to get?

“We’re just choosing which problem we want to avoid most. So if we all just stayed at home, everyone didn’t leave their house at all, and we closed all the schools and all businesses and all transport, we would slow this down and there wouldn’t be surges in numbers that would overwhelm the hospitals. But, you know, that’s not actually something we can do. So the other end of the spectrum would be to just keep everything open and then we would definitely overwhelm our health-care system and start rationing care about who gets to go to ICUs and who doesn’t. And if we did that, the models say that we would have 40 to 70 percent of the country infected. And at the current understanding case fatality rate, which might even increase if we overwhelm our health-care system and can’t take care of people who could have been taken care of, you’re looking at more than a million deaths.”

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