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An Ex-Surgeon General on America’s Stubborn COVID Curve

Dr. Vivek Murthy posed next to his book.
Source| Meredith Nierman

In Coronavirus news, it's been a week of ups and downs. Cases are rising exponentially, states are reconsidering their reopening plans, 1.5 million jobless claims were filed last week and markets now reflect a growing pessimism that the coronavirus will be contained. Meanwhile, the U.S. was already facing a rise in public health crises including drug and alcohol addiction and depression—all with correlations to loneliness and social isolation.

This week, host Roben Farzad welcomes former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to the show to talk about the pandemic, the role of the Surgeon General in a health emergency and Dr. Murthy's book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. We end the show with a story from the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project about a program called Girls Rock Whitesburg which is designed to inspire young women, gender-fluid and trans youth through rock music.

“We're going to see a higher level of precautions taken and the environments in which we visit whether there's a grocery store or, or hotels etc. We're going to see heightened sanitation protocols. We're going to see less people out, because lowering contact does reduce the spread of the virus. We won't be, unfortunately, going back to a pre-pandemic way of life anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that we can't have meaningful interaction with others in the right settings.” -Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General


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Episode Excerpt

The following excerpt was edited for clarity.


Roben Farzad: I know of all sorts of people in the community who really look forward to that church hour as a kind of a touch point, like widowed people and people who have lost loved ones, who are really yearning for that human connection. And we're nowhere close to that.

Vivek Murthy: One of the things that has been striking about COVID-19 is that it has put us at greater risk of deepening the well of loneliness that existed long before COVID-19 struck. Before this virus came on the scene, I was traveling the country in my role as Surgeon General and then for a few years after that, and I saw something that surprised me. Behind many of the stories of addiction, violence, depression and anxiety that I was hearing, were these threads of loneliness. People were often saying to me, ‘I feel that I have to carry all these burdens in my life by myself,’ or ‘I feel if I disappear tomorrow, no one would notice’ or ‘I feel invisible.’ I was hearing this from college students, from parents, from the elderly, from people in remote fishing villages in Alaska as well as densely crowded cities with millions of residents. I was hearing them from people who were struggling economically, from people who are wealthy and famous and even from members of Congress in Washington DC. But what has happened with COVID-19 is that the deeper physical separation that this has forced upon us has, for many people, led to a greater social disconnection and a sense of loneliness.

Listen Fridays at 2 p.m. on VPM News, 88.9 FM. The show reairs Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m. and is available wherever you get your podcasts.


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