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Social Distance

Author: The Atlantic

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James Hamblin is a doctor. Katherine Wells is not. But she has a lot of questions. Listen in as Jim and Katherine keep in touch with other journalists, experts, and friends about the latest science and health news⁠—and, more important, what to do with it.

Email us with questions, stories, or feedback at

87 Episodes
Katherine’s in California, where things could be better. She’s been wearing two masks—one for the coronavirus, and one for the wildfire smoke—but she isn’t sure how to interpret the air quality warnings. Jim wants to know how air pollution like the smoke interacts with COVID-19. So they called Dr. John Balmes, an expert who’s studied inhaled pollutants for decades and serves as the Physician Member for the California Air Resources Board. Join us live next week at the Atlantic Festival at 12pm ET. We’ll be joined by Alexis Madrigal and will take questions. Register for free at:
Is Faster Better?

Is Faster Better?


The path out the pandemic is a vaccine. Short of that, it could be rapid testing. And the sooner, the better ... right? Sarah Zhang and Alexis Madrigal explain how close we are to each solution — and how much of a solution each may be if rushed. Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
With news that a White House pandemic adviser reportedly pushed a “herd immunity strategy,” Katherine and Jim ask an expert about what that would mean. Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor and emergency radiologist, explains why Sweden isn’t the example people think it is—and why many people are talking about “herd immunity” all wrong. Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
Plasma and Immunity

Plasma and Immunity


Writer F.T. Kola had COVID-19 in March, and she’s still dealing with the aftermath. She calls to ask about whether she should donate plasma, and if she should worry about “reinfection.” Then, senior editor John Hendrickson talks about disability at the DNC. Read his definitive story on Joe Biden and stuttering here. Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
When live events went online, they lost something indescribable. But did some gain something new? Maeve Higgins explains why comedy needs a crowd. James Fallows argues that politics might be better on Zoom. Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
Katherine takes a road trip. Jim talks to staff writer Robinson Meyer about COVID cars—and how a new wave of car ownership could change cities for better, or worse. Also: N95s! Surgical masks! Gaiters! What face coverings actually work? (And when should you wear them?) Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
Jim explains the terms Katherine hears in news about scientific studies — and why the pandemic may be changing science. And Ed Yong joins to discuss how American healthcare needs to change to beat the coronavirus. (Read his cover story here.) Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
Birding Outside the Home

Birding Outside the Home


Katherine tries to convince Jim to take on a new hobby with help from self-described “bird nerd,” Jason Ward. Follow Jason Ward on Twitter & Instagram. Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at
The Tree Army

The Tree Army


Jim wants to see a modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps. As it happens, there’s a bill in Congress to dramatically expand national service called the CORPS Act. Senator Chris Coons has led the effort to pass it. He joins the show to talk about solving two problems with one bill. Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic:
Staff writer Graeme Wood makes his first visit to Walt Disney World in the midst of a pandemic. You can read Graeme's piece here and support all of The Atlantic's journalism by subscribing at
How Immunity Works

How Immunity Works


Katherine gets the results of her coronavirus and antibody tests. She has questions about what they mean, so immunologist Dr. Lisa Butterfield joins to explain the immune system (with help from Jim’s metaphors). Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic:
$600 a Week

$600 a Week


In a few days, 30 million Americans will lose the $600 in unemployment insurance they’ve depended on every week. What happens next? Annie Lowrey, staff writer and author of Give People Money, joins to explain. Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic:
Jim talks about his new book Clean: The New Science of Skin with his dream interviewer. Sort of.  You can buy his book here:
CDC Data Goes Dark

CDC Data Goes Dark


This week, the Trump administration mandated that hospitals no longer send their data to the CDC, and the public appears to have lost access to key data. Alexis Madrigal, staff writer and co-founder of The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, joins to explain what happened and why it matters as states seek to reopen. Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic:
Is it Safe To Fly?

Is it Safe To Fly?


Jim answers a listener question about plane flights. Katherine peppers him with hypotheticals. Jim unfurls a bad metaphor, again.
Over 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in America have been linked to nursing homes. How did it happen, and how bad could it get? Staff writer Olga Khazan joins to explain. Read her piece on nursing homes here, and Jim's piece on herd immunity here.
How does this end? Absent a treatment or vaccine, coronavirus won’t stop spreading until we reach herd immunity. But what is it?
The Sun Belt Spike

The Sun Belt Spike


What does the surge in cases in the south and west mean for the country’s chances of containing the pandemic? Staff writer Alexis Madrigal explains.
Why Wall Street's doing great while everything else is not
Many plans for school reopenings involve a mix of online and in-person instruction. That could have huge downstream effects on a workforce that can’t rely on children being in or out of school. Staff writer Helen Lewis shares a solution that’s too logical to actually happen.
Comments (6)

Yasmine C

The county next to mine has a huge outbreak. The highest in the state. And they refuse to close down or delay reopening. So no, neighbor, I won't merge with you! Stay in your own fn county.

Jun 27th

Carla Bolton

I LOL when I heard you describe the Imagine song as "trash". I'm absolutely stoked the celebrity ship is sinking 🙌🏻 🛳️

Apr 25th

Mark Powelson

Hmm, six clinical trials are underway across the globe, verdict isnt really in. Front line MDs often make clinical decisions w imperfect data. The fact that chloroquine is 1) based on an 'old' drug is utterly irrelevant (aspirin is ancient; 2) 'mechanism is unknown' also totally irrelevant to effectiveness of to even an FDA approval as surely you both know. Vitamins C and D also being investigated as many antivirals. But practitioners are well acquainted w counterindications and dosage issues of chloroquine and so apparently hundreds of docs have used this relatively safe therapeutic around the world following published reports from China of possible effectiveness in symptomatic relief. Clinical medicine cannot be essarily wait for double-blind controlled studies in a deadly global pandemic, again as you surely know but failed to note. Let's tell the plain truth in a crisis regardless of the obnoxiousness of occupant 1600 Penn Ave, ok?

Apr 10th
Reply (1)


This host is terrible and has the worst voice. Not every white journalist should make a podcast. Blah

Apr 5th


I really love the Atlantic and had high expectations for this podcast. The woman seems totally unprepared and has clearly done no prep work or reading prior to these casts. She asks questions of the guy as if he’s her only source of info. She contributes nothing as the guy even calls her out on in a later cast. Really disappointing from such an esteemed magazine. Listeners would be wise to spend their time catching up on the pandemic with a different cast.

Mar 29th
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