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Phone calls about science, health, and how to keep things in perspective.

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  • Episode 101

    Mutations

    Last month, we learned about the “UK variant.” Now, more mutations from South Africa and Brazil have made headlines. How bad are they? And should you change anything you’re doing already?


    Dr. Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the Galveston National Laboratory who studies coronaviruses, joins to explain.


    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at theatlantic.com/supportus.

  • Episode 100

    How Badly Is Vaccination Going?

    We were supposed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year. We’ve fallen well short of that. Should we be worried?

    Jim and Katherine are joined by Juliette Kayyem, a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security who ran intergovernmental efforts like the one behind the vaccine rollout. She explains what’s going on, what the problems have been, and why we shouldn’t be too concerned (yet).

    They’re also joined by a listener named Craig seeking advice on a tough situation: when can you travel to see an ill family member?

  • Episode 99

    The Vaccine is Here! What Now?

    We're very relieved, but now entering the strange time of vaccine purgatory.

    Staff writer Sarah Zhang joins Jim and Katherine to answer your questions.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 98

    Americans Are Going Hungry

    The pandemic has brought unprecedented economic suffering and yet, Congress hasn’t passed new relief since March. As politicians attempt to negotiate a package before the holidays, Americans are going hungry. How could we have let it go on so long? What about our politics let it get so bad?

    Jim and Katherine talk with Atlantic staff writer David A. Graham and Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 97

    Misinformation Mailbag

    Listeners have written in with questions on all kinds of pandemic misinformation about masks, supplements, vaccines, and more. So this week, Jim and Katherine talk about conspiracy theories, false remedies, and how to talk to the people that believe in them.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 96

    How to Cancel Thanksgiving (Because You Should)

    The coronavirus, in addition to being dangerous and terrifying, also makes everything socially awkward. But now is a time to make hard decisions and have hard conversations. Jim and Katherine answer listener questions about the holidays, and explain how to say no.


    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 95

    A 90% Effective Vaccine

    Jim and Katherine get sent to the principal (the lead principal investigator of the Pfizer vaccine trial).

    Dr. Stephen Thomas, now a key figure evaluating the Pfizer vaccine, returns to explain promising preliminary data that shows it to be 90% effective.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 92

    People Need Help

    Americans now face a third wave of the coronavirus. New lockdowns may soon follow—this time, without economic support. 

    Many provisions of the CARES Act ran out in July and Congress missed its deadline this week to pass new support before the election. We talk to Prof. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an expert on the social safety net, about how dire the economic situation already is for many families.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 91

    Is COVID-19 a Pre-Existing Condition?

    With worries about the Affordable Care Act looming over Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, an expert gives us a refresher on the landmark health law—and answers questions about what it would mean to lose the law during the pandemic. 


    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 89

    What Does COVID Do to the Heart?

    At this week’s presidential debate, Donald Trump claimed he “brought back Big Ten football.” The college conference voted to send student athletes back on the field this fall—a decision that came only days after researchers at Ohio State (the current Big Ten champion) published a study of athletes who had contracted mild COVID cases, but showed signs of myocarditis, a potentially serious and long-lasting heart condition.

    Jim and Katherine ask cardiologist Dr. Amy Kontorovich what we know about COVID’s impact on the heart. And Jim calls staff writer Adam Harris to ask why schools are putting student athletes at risk—and whether the controversial decision could change college athletics.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 88

    How Bad Will Winter Get?

    Katherine’s been dreading the cold months and the problems they might bring. She asks Jim what to expect and how to prepare. And Alexis Madrigal joins for a live Atlantic Festival taping to share the different winter scenarios with testing and a vaccine.


    Read Jim’s piece about winter here. And support this show by becoming an Atlantic subscriber at theatlantic.com/supportus.

  • Episode 87

    Fires Outside, Virus Inside

    Katherine’s in California, where things could be better. She’s been wearing two masks—one for the coronavirus, and one for the wildfire smoke—but she isn’t sure how to interpret the air quality warnings. Jim wants to know how air pollution like the smoke interacts with COVID-19. So they called Dr. John Balmes, an expert who’s studied inhaled pollutants for decades and serves as the Physician Member for the California Air Resources Board.


    Join us live next week at the Atlantic Festival at 12pm ET. We’ll be joined by Alexis Madrigal and will take questions. Register for free at: theatlanticfestival.com

  • Episode 86

    Is Faster Better?

    The path out the pandemic is a vaccine. Short of that, it could be rapid testing. And the sooner, the better ... right? Sarah Zhang and Alexis Madrigal explain how close we are to each solution — and how much of a solution each may be if rushed.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 85

    Herd Immunity is Not a Strategy

    With news that a White House pandemic adviser reportedly pushed a “herd immunity strategy,” Katherine and Jim ask an expert about what that would mean. Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor and emergency radiologist, explains why Sweden isn’t the example people think it is—and why many people are talking about “herd immunity” all wrong.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 84

    Plasma and Immunity

    Writer F.T. Kola had COVID-19 in March, and she’s still dealing with the aftermath. She calls to ask about whether she should donate plasma, and if she should worry about “reinfection.” Then, senior editor John Hendrickson talks about disability at the DNC. Read his definitive story on Joe Biden and stuttering here.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 83

    The Comedy and Tragedy of Virtual Live Events

    When live events went online, they lost something indescribable. But did some gain something new? Maeve Higgins explains why comedy needs a crowd. James Fallows argues that politics might be better on Zoom.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 82

    Millennials Are Buying COVID Cars

    Katherine takes a road trip. Jim talks to staff writer Robinson Meyer about COVID cars—and how a new wave of car ownership could change cities for better, or worse.

    Also: N95s! Surgical masks! Gaiters! What face coverings actually work? (And when should you wear them?)

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 81

    This Episode Has Not Been Peer-Reviewed

    Jim explains the terms Katherine hears in news about scientific studies — and why the pandemic may be changing science. And Ed Yong joins to discuss how American healthcare needs to change to beat the coronavirus. (Read his cover story here.)

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus