How to think about coronavirus risk in your life
Play • 1 hr 10 min

Coronavirus has turned life into an endless series of risk calculations. Can I take my child to see his grandparents, even if it means getting on a plane? Is it okay to begin seeing friends or dating? Should I attend religious services even if they are held inside? Do I have to wear a mask around my roommates? The profusion of these questions reflects public health failures, but we live in the wreckage of those failures. So how are we best to live?

Julia Marcus is an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and a contributing writer for The Atlantic who has penned a brilliant series of essays about how to think about risk amidst this pandemic. Marcus’s starting point, which emerges from her previous work on HIV prevention, is that an all-or-nothing approach is blindly unrealistic: Everything is a trade-off. Shaming is a terrible public health strategy. And we can’t have a conversation about risks that ignores the reality of benefits, too. 

In this conversation, Marcus offers a framework for making key life decisions while also managing coronavirus risk at the same time. We also discuss what the risk calculation for someone living in Germany or South Korea looks like, how the US government’s abdication of responsibility has shifted the burden of risk management onto individuals, the kinds of activities we tend to underestimate and overestimate the riskiness of, the principles that should guide us in the age of coronavirus, how long we can expect this pandemic to last, and much more.


“Quarantine Fatigue Is Real”, Julia Marcus, The Atlantic

“Americans Aren’t Getting the Advice They Need”, Julia Marcus, The Atlantic

“Colleges Are Getting Ready to Blame Their Students”, Julia Marcus, The Atlantic

Book recommendations:

Momo by Michael Ende

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

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