Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci on the Key to this Pandemic

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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN Sunday that the U.S. is “not going to control the pandemic,” because “it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” But thinking of COVID-19 like the flu and employing a flu-pandemic playbook is not an effective response, according to sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. In her latest piece for The Atlantic, Tufekci highlights a factor she says is key to this pandemic: COVID-19 is an "overdispersed" virus, which means it tends to spread in clusters. When dealing with overdispersion, she writes "identifying transmission events (someone infected someone else) is more important than identifying infected individuals." Tufekci outlines how countries like South Korea and Japan have used aggressive contact-tracing approaches that include backwards tracing to the original contact, as well as clamping down on potential super-spreader events, to slow the spread. That's in stark contrast to the U.S., where the federal response has been the idea of creating "herd immunity" and where the White House itself became the source of a super-spreader event earlier this month. Tufekci, who the New York Times has called "perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist,” joins us to talk about the rising cases across the country, prospects for getting the pandemic under control and feelings of "pandemic fatigue." We also get a fire update from Captain Jason Fairchild, public information officer for Orange County Fire Authority.


Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; contributing writer, The Atlantic; contributing opinion writer, The New York Times

Jason Fairchild, public information officer, Orange County Fire Authority