‘This Is an Impending Catastrophe’

A conversation with Stanford epidemiologist Dr. Steve Goodman

David Goodman
Published in
8 min readMar 15, 2020


CImage: zhangshuang/Getty Images

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This is an overreaction.

That was my first thought upon receiving an email from my son’s college earlier this week informing me that he had to leave campus within five days due to the threat of Covid-19, or coronavirus. All of his college classes are being moved online, and all students are to leave their dorms for the duration of the school year. His long-anticipated freshman year in college will now be completed in his bedroom — upstairs in my house.

Is this really necessary?

Exasperated, I called my older brother. Why, I asked, are we doing all this for a flu? And why close schools that are full of young people, who reportedly only suffer mild symptoms from coronavirus?

My brother was not impressed with my take on the pandemic. He proceeded to walk me through the issues and matter-of-factly school me in the cold calculus of exponential disease spread and its consequences.

I admit that my brother knows a little more than me about such things. Steve Goodman, MD, MHS, PhD, is an associate dean at the Stanford School of Medicine, where he is Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, and Medicine.

As I listened intently to my brother’s explanation, I thought about how others, including my similarly skeptical friends, would benefit from hearing this. Steve graciously agreed to continue our conversation on the Vermont Conversation, a public affairs radio show that I host. Less than 12 hours after this episode of the Vermont Conversation aired on March 11, 2020 on WDEV/Radio Vermont, it became the most shared podcast in the eight-year history of the show.

The following is adapted from our discussion on the radio.

Elemental: Just in the last day, I’ve had several conversations with intelligent people who echoed what I said to you: Closing schools is an overreaction. How do you respond to that?

Steve Goodman: Well, this is the luxury of having lived in a society that has not faced something like this in almost a century. We’ve already seen…



David Goodman

NYT bestselling author. Journalist. Skier. Host, The Vermont Conversation podcast at VTDigger.org. www.dgoodman.net