‘This Is Not a Public Health Crisis — It’s a Political Crisis’
A conversation with Stanford epidemiologist Dr. Steven Goodman
Back in March, when the Covid-19 outbreak was in its early days, I asked my brother Steve to join me on the public affairs radio show that I host, The Vermont Conversation, to talk about what we could expect with this new virus. Unlike me, he is an expert. Steve Goodman, MD, PhD, is an associate dean at Stanford Medical School, where he is also a professor of epidemiology and population health and medicine. I wondered aloud whether closing schools was an overreaction. He quickly set me straight.
“This is an impending catastrophe,” he presciently said. “We have a tsunami that is rolling in. The depth of the ocean at our feet at the beachhead is only a few inches right now, but it’s rolling in.” We spoke again in late April about the dangers of reopening.
Today, with 140,000 Americans dead and millions infected, I decided to seek out Steve’s epidemiological perspective on where we are and what lies ahead. You can listen to our live radio conversation here. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Elemental: Vice President Mike Pence recently declared, “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives.” How do you assess where we’re at now?
Steve Goodman: I think the numbers speak for themselves. We have by far the highest number of cases in the world and the most deaths in the world. But it’s important to recognize that this disease is still a pretty local phenomenon. So, to ask, “How is the United States doing?” is not really the right question.
What we have in the United States is not just 50 different stories for the 50 states. We might have 500 different stories, because every county has a different policy. This is part of the problem. When you look at the maps, they’re like a checkerboard, even within states that are doing terribly. There’s a county in California, for example, that has no cases. Zero. And yet California right now is said to be doing rather badly, because there are some areas of California that are doing terribly. Overall, the problem is we have so many population centers that are exploding right now.