“Ending the Quarantine: If, When, and How?” – with Emily Oster

Emily Oster, an economist and author of two bestselling books on pregnancy and parenting, joins host Dr. Fox to discuss ending quarantine and stay-at-home orders. Oster explains how she has interpreted data and research on Covid-19, and what that means for safely reopening. They also discuss explaincovid.org, a website where Oster delivers reliable information about the virus in a way that is easy for everyone to understand.

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Emily Oster, an economist and bestselling author of two books on parenthood and pregnancy, discusses reopening after quarantine. Oster was previously a guest on Healthful Woman, in which she and Dr. Fox discussed parenting during the Covid-19 crisis. In this episode, they discuss some things that Dr. Oster previously overlooked, in particular, the mental health effects of staying at home and social distancing. She and Dr. Fox explain that the uncertainty of how long this will last is weighing heavily on people.

Oster also explains that what started as “flattening the curve” has become, in many people’s opinion, a goal of having no cases of Covid-19 at all. However, this is impossible. Dr. Fox explains that as treatment strategies improve, people who do catch the virus are recovering faster and have a higher likelihood of survival. In addition, a majority of deaths in many areas are in nursing homes. Information such as this can help inform policy to protect people who are most at risk. Oster explains various strategies that can help less at-risk groups engage in normal life and eventually develop immunity while protecting people such as the elderly and those with other health concerns. She also explains that currently, monitoring information on the number of hospital admissions is more indicative of whether the situation is improving compared to the total number of cases. Oster explains that testing numbers don’t mean very much unless everyone in a community or a random sample of people were tested.

Oster also weighs in on current strategies to minimize cases of the virus. She says that while “we haven’t been smartly restrictive,” shutting things down immediately was important. However, it may be time to begin reopening things safely. She also explains that wearing masks is important in many scenarios, such as going to the grocery store, because they prevent people from spreading germs and touching their faces. However, masks are not really necessary when people are outdoors and alone doing activities such as running or hiking.

Oster explains that confusing or illogical regulation has made it more likely that people ignore all safety practices. In addition, many people are confused about emerging information. She explains that the media is often a source of fear and sensationalism, and that “the fear aspect is really driving people.” There is also misunderstanding because people who understand science and research are not always the best at explaining it to everyday people, which is why she partnered with researchers and experts to create explaincovid.org. She explains that by only telling people to never go out at all, there is a great risk in not explaining valuable information on safety if they do choose to or must leave their homes.