Listen: This Is as Real as It Gets

An infectious-disease doctor discusses how hospitals are preparing for the coming surge of patients.

On The Atlantic’s new daily(-ish) podcast, Dr. James Hamblin and Katherine Wells talk with Dr. Stephen Thomas, the chief of the infectious-disease division at SUNY Upstate Medical University. He has planned for hypothetical pandemics before, but he says this one is “as real as it gets.”

His hospital just received its first COVID-19 cases. He joins to discuss how hospitals are preparing, and how social distancing now can help health-care professionals handle the coming surge of patients.

Listen to the episode here:

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Some highlights from the interview with Dr. Thomas:

  • On the scenario he expects to become a reality: “Part of me is quite calm about it, because it’s been thought about so much and for so long, so now that it’s here it’s, Okay, it’s here, the anticipation is over … So part of it is a calm acceptance that this is where we are. Part of it is disappointment, in a way, that there were so many people and so many organizations trying to inform decision makers in the geopolitical space that this was a possibility … and to not have those taken seriously.”
  • “When I still see people or hear people who are not taking this seriously as they should, or are not adhering to social distancing, or are more concerned about the impact on themselves instead of impacts on the larger society and community, it’s just a little disappointing and a little deflating … They could make such a huge difference, and they could make a huge difference in a timely manner, and reduce opportunity costs. And people, in some areas, still can’t seem to wrap their arms around that.”
  • “I’m quoting Mark Twain a lot … ‘Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s acting in spite of it.’ That is what we’re asking of our medical professionals. We went into this business for a reason, and that reason remains the same, and it’s even more important now than ever to be in touch with why you went into this field. And it is okay to be afraid, but we’re asking people to do their jobs, despite having that fear. And when they do that, that’s what I think courage is.”