Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, took the lectern after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who on Friday afternoon announced that the state would undergo a stay-at-home order for 2½ weeks starting Saturday evening.
“The healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable,” Landon said. She acknowledged that restrictions like a shelter-in-place may end up feeling “extreme” and “anticlimactic” — and that’s the point.
“It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens,” Landon said. “A successful shelter-in-place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.”
Landon’s comments were less than 10 minutes of the nearly hour-long news conference, but they quickly made an impression on listeners and drew praise for their clarity and sense of empowerment while still conveying the urgency of the moment.
The positive reactions to Landon’s remarks were already making their way to her phone when she spoke to The Washington Post a short time after. Landon described herself as naturally optimistic, the kind of person who wants to see the bright side of things, but said that the United States is in a critical moment where people need to understand the seriousness of the crisis and how their seemingly small actions can affect it.
“In all honesty, if we say, ‘This is like the flu, we’ll be all right,’ that attitude is going to harm other people,” Landon told The Post. “And it’s really hard to wrap your head around that, especially in American culture: We’re individualistic and we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and find a way to make it through. And that’s not going to work right now.”
Valerie Gunn, a marketing professional in Chicago, said Landon struck a chord.
“She was very human, and I thought she did a good job of sounding the alarm without making me feel like I need to go buy everything in the grocery store,” Gunn told The Post by phone Friday. “If you listen to not one other speech about this, this is the one I would listen to. It was concise and absorbable.”
Gunn said Landon’s remarks provided a useful road map for helping people understand the outcomes health officials are hoping for, and helped retool her perspective so that she won’t feel frustrated if the drastic measures, as Landon said, feel like they were “all for nothing.”
For Michael Patrick Thornton, an actor and theater creative director in Chicago, Landon’s comments provided the information and professionalism he’s found lacking in the federal government’s remarks, including those of President Trump.
Thornton told The Post he listened to Landon’s comments and heard “a very clear story about shared responsibility in a time of pandemic.”
“People are trying to wrap their minds about what fighting this even feels like, and she did a masterful job in managing expectations,” Thornton said.
In Illinois, there are at least 585 confirmed cases of covid-19 and four deaths. Yet Landon said she recognizes (and has seen) that many people still doubt that skipping book club or soccer practice can make a difference in the virus’s spread; she understands that the sentiment might be felt especially strongly in Illinois’ more-rural communities that have yet to confirm a case of infection.
“The other communities are the ones who will benefit the most from doing a shelter-in-place now,” Landon said. “That’s why statewide shelter-in-place orders are the most effective.”
The cases coming into hospitals now are patients who were infected a week ago, and if communities wait until the hospitals are full to start their self-isolation, she said, "next week’s patients won’t have anywhere to go.”