One doctor’s straight talk about the coronavirus strikes a chord with anxious Americans

Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine, took the lectern following Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) who on Friday afternoon announced the state would undergo a shelter-in-place order for two and a half weeks starting Saturday evening.

“The healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable,” Landon said. She acknowledged that the restrictions like a shelter in place may end up feeling “extreme” and “anticlimactic” — and that’s the point.

“It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens,” Landon said. “A successful shelter in place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.”

The positive reactions to Landon’s speech were already making their way to her phone when she spoke to The Washington Post a short time after. Landon described herself as naturally optimistic, the kind of person who wants to see the bright side of things — but that the United States is in a critical moment where people need to understand the seriousness of the crisis and how their seemingly small actions can affect it.

“In all honesty, if we say ’this is like the flu, we’ll be all right,’ that attitude is going to harm other people,” Landon told The Post. “And it’s really hard to wrap your head around that, especially in American culture: We’re individualistic and we ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ and find a way to make it through. And that’s not going to work right now.”

Valerie Gunn, a marketing professional in Chicago, said Landon struck a chord.

“She was very human and I thought she did a good job of sounding the alarm without making me feel like I need to go buy everything in the grocery store,” Valerie Gunn, a marketing professional in Chicago told The Post by phone Friday. “If you listen to not one other speech about this, this is the one I would listen to. It was concise and absorbable.”

Gunn said Landon’s speech provided a useful road map for helping people understand the outcomes health officials are hoping for, and helped retool her perspective so that she won’t feel frustrated if the drastic measures, as Landon said, feel like they were “all for nothing.”

For Michael Patrick Thornton, an actor and theater owner in Chicago, Landon’s speech provided the information and professionalism he’s found lacking from the federal government’s remarks, including President Trump.

Thornton told The Post he listened to Landon’s speech and heard “a very clear story about shared responsibility in a time of pandemic.”

“People are trying to wrap their minds about what fighting this even feels like and she did a masterful job in managing explications,” Thornton said.

In Illinois, there are at least 585 confirmed cases of covid-19 and four deaths — a 261 percent increase from just Wednesday, according to an analysis by The Post. Yet Landon said she recognizes (and has seen) that many people still doubt that skipping book club or soccer practice can make a difference in the virus’s spread; she understands the sentiment might be felt especially strong in Illinois’ more rural communities that have yet to confirm a case of infection.

“The other communities are the ones who will benefit the most from doing a shelter in place now,” Landon said. “That’s why statewide shelter-in-place orders are the most effective.”

The cases coming into hospitals now were patients who were infected a week ago, and if communities wait until the hospitals are full to start their self-isolation, “next week’s patients won’t have anywhere to go.”

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