MARCH 17, 2020
Francis Collins speaks about the coronavirus, his faith, and an unusual friendship.

There are estimates that if nothing goes right and if we fail to flatten the curve and if health systems are overwhelmed, we might see the deaths of as many as a million and a half people in the United States.”

That’s what Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told me on Saturday. Collins is one of the most widely respected physician-geneticists in the world, who is deeply involved in containing the coronavirus pandemic. (Anthony Fauci, arguably the leading infectious-disease specialist in the world, works for Collins at NIH and is a close friend.)
Collins was not offering a prediction, but a realistic worst-case scenario of what awaits America in the next eight weeks or so unless, in his words, we embrace “the more extreme version” of social distancing.
“If you look at the rates of new cases that are being diagnosed, we’re on an exponential curve,” Collins told me. “That curve, some would say, places us only about eight days behind Italy. If that’s true, we have only a very short period of time before this becomes an obvious national crisis with many people presenting with serious illness and hospitals quickly becoming very stressed with the ability to handle all of these sick people, especially older people who are at higher risk and who may need not just a hospital bed but even a ventilator.”