“Make this an epidemic of kindness, that’s really being social.” Michael Osterholm

Teri Gross, known for her interviews on the NPR program, Fresh Air, recently interviewed Michael Osterholm. Who is he? An American infectious disease epidemiologist, and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm has street cred in the current Covid19 pandemic. So if you are finding the information coming at you from many sources to be confusing and downright depressing, like why do cases go up and down; can we tie it to reopening the economy and where the hell are we right now? The information he has provided might help. 


Osterholm discusses the process, suggesting that we step back and look at the overall picture: to do that, we have to use influenza as the model.

We all know that with the influenza or the flu virus there are different strains. The scientists that create the flu vaccine for a given year do their best to create one that will cover those various strains.

THE FLU MODEL: there is that first wave in autumn, and then often the influenza virus drops off, goes away; but then there is a second wave, starting in January, though that too drops off and eventually goes away. It’s spring and allergy season starts! It’s always something. 

But here’s the thing Osterholm says: we don’t know if this is happening with the Corona Virus in the United States. But we do know: cases will go back up again; it’s the behavior of the virus in addition to the behavior of humans.


Osterholm stresses the importance of social distancing. “If we follow the rules with social distancing and masks, cases should disappear in the next 2 months. But then, we would have a second wave that could be much worse affecting 5-7% of the population. And keep this in mind, the virus will not slow down until 50-60% of the population have been affected, have antibodies to fight off the virus and thus supply us with herd immunity.” (If you are unfamiliar with herd immunity, go here.)

As Osterholm agrees, all of this is very sobering—the numbers, the time. It’s as if we humans are having a race with the virus that is driven by a biology we cannot control. The virus is going to keep happening and the only way to control it is a vaccine. Why? Because the vaccine will make every individual immune to the virus without getting the virus.

But Osterholm admits that currently the American people are confused as to what to do and how to do it. Flu pandemics can last for years; so we have to learn how to live with this virus; we can’t let this virus run like crazy! And why you ask– because our healthcare system cannot handle it! PEOPLE WILL DIE. 

  • in Florida a health dept. worker was asked to report a low patient number, alter the real numbers; she refused and was fired.
  • this is the worst pandemic since 1918; and the worst economic problem since the Great Depression.
  • we are a divided nation. Osterholm gets nasty emails, threatening emails, as some people believe it’s a conscious effort to destroy the economy and the current government. The virus is the seed of painful accusation and beliefs. Somewhat like HIV-Aids.
  • yet this is different: people are making up stories to fit the narrative. That’s how we have come to live with those who have an alternative purpose–those in the Antivax Movement. Olsterholm states that a year from now kids will suffer, because we have stopped our vaccination efforts to keep children from getting measles. Out of fear and pressure, many kids will not get vaccinated. Public health has had to focus on COVID and not water, lead poisoning, vaccinations, sexual transmitted diseases etc. So just wait!
  • Under Trump, the workings of the CDC who passes important information to local health departments across our nation, has been hindered, blocked, forced into some phony submission. One result: the many antibiotics that we currently use will become resistant to bacteria, because the necessary passage of research and information is not progressing. 


Osterhome admits that our situation is evolving. Cases of the virus go up and down; it becomes hard to tie it to the reopening of the economy; again think of the influenza model. One wave then another. Scientists are recording all of this, searching for the right model. 

  • Osterholm stresses the importance of distancing. We are actually in a race with the virus.  
  • Surfaces play a very little role. He believes we have gone overboard, which is unfortunate–because it really is all about Air.
  • Wash your hands, but no one needs to be frightened of their physical environment, like mail, packages, print magazines. Osterhome doesn’t worry about food.
  • IT IS THE AIR THAT WE SHARE. THUS…Distancing is important.


In reference to the fact that we are 2 weeks out from massive protests, Olsterholm stresses that we have not seen major increases in cases in cities with protesting. The virus disintegrates in the air and so there is a lot less exposure. But tear gas and smoke, yelling shouting can get the virus into the air; also being arrested in holding cars and up against others can certainly pass the virus, though we are not seeing an increase yet.

He did mention the rally in Tulsa that occurred this past weekend. A possibility of rising numbers:

  • 19,000 people;
  • Trump does not wear a mask and as we saw, most people didn’t either;
  • attendees had to sign a liability disclaimer; crazy, crazy;
  • indoor air and large crowed sharing air–sets up a viral storm;
  • loud voices, singing, shouting, enhances the virus. It’s putting gasoline on the fire.
  • people from the rally go home on buses, cars, planes, infect others;
  • where is personal responsibility;    
  • over 600 healthcare workers have been infected and have died;
  • Osterholm mentions 400 healthcare workers who got infected at work and died, without an underlying health condition;
  • so we as a nation are putting each other and healthcare workers at risk when we don’t practice social distancing and wear masks.

FINAL MESSAGE—Don’t risk your own life. Don’t risk the life of others.

It’s like driving, if you are careless and crash into someone else, you might kill them. We have to hold people accountable. That should be the only waiver–and we all need to sign it. PLUS our government needs to tell the public the truth, because even if they fail to do so, THE VIRUS WILL EXPOSE THE TRUTH. 


Increase the air flow where you live. Wind is cleansing the air; inside you should have fans to move the air; open car windows; closeness can be related to the time you are exposed to a cough or a sneeze. There should be ventilation in buildings. Remember that when talking, you can actually see the aerosols fill the room; so a fan that moves the air is smart; YOU CAN EXHAUST THE AIR OUT; replace with clean air; adjust the amount of air that comes in and goes out. 

FINAL THOUGHT: being separated from family is hard. Osterholm really doesn’t go anywhere, but he doesn’t like the term social distancing. He prefers physical distancing–that’s fine. Because we can still keep in touch with the people we love. And we can turn things around. So wear a mask, follow the rules. Make this an Epidemic of KINDNESS–that’s truly being SOCIAL.

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum