March 12, 2020
Public awareness about the ramifications of the coronavirus reached a tipping point in the United States on Wednesday night, from the government's new restrictions on European travel to the suspension of sporting events and the confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses of Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson.
While some people prefer to soothe their anxiety by practicing tips to remain grounded, others deal with it by voraciously consuming as much information as humanly possible about the virus. Each approach has its pros and cons. There's probably a middle ground that minimizes panic without sacrificing thirst for knowledge.
One of the best ways to learn about the broader concerns of the coronavirus pandemic — and infectious diseases more generally — is to absorb the wisdom of epidemiologists and other experts who have dedicated their lives to the study of these bugs. In rapidly developing situations, they tend to be able to see both the minutiae and the bigger picture in a way that the public struggles to comprehend under the weight of new information.
On Wednesday on the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast, the everyman host brought in University of Minnesota professor and epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who's also the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Osterholm has served as an advisor to multiple presidential administrations and closely followed the previous SARS and MERS pandemics, as well as other potentially dangerous pathogens that could present future threats.
In a wide-ranging interview, Osterholm discusses all things coronavirus: How can public policy and individual actions shape the trajectory of the pandemic? Why is COVID-19 a particularly troubling illness, and how does it compare to past pandemics, both in the U.S. and around the world? How can medical systems handle the volume of patients in need of care over the coming weeks and months?
Osterholm's perspective, dispelling myths and highlighting dangers, is one of many that can help make sense of the crisis as it progresses. His opinions, whether they concern cruise ships or the closing of schools, underscore the thought processes and cost-benefit analyses that policymakers are dealing with in a fluid situation.
"My job isn't to scare you out of your wits, it's to scare you into your wits," Osterholm told Rogan.
The full interview, which runs more than 90 minutes, is worth a listen for anyone in need of a sobering, yet honest examination of what's happening in the world today.