Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stephen Colbert talks to a doctor—as opposed to Trump or Smash Mouth—on America's reopening

Stephen Colbert, Dr. John LaPook
Stephen Colbert, Dr. John LaPook
Screenshot: The Late Show

“I’ve been disappointed that we all haven’t been rowing in the same direction,” is about as politic a way as a medical professional could address the unmitigated, Titanic-style disaster that’s been the United States’ response to the coronavirus. (With some 160,000 U.S. deaths, we’re at around 107 Titanics-worth of dead people, with plenty of icebergs looming all around.) Still, as CBS Chief Medical Correspondent and yet another actual doctor throwing shade at Donald Trump and the GOP’s full-steam-ahead-and-screw-the-consequences approach to pandemic navigation, Dr. John LaPook wasn’t really soft-pedaling his response to how god-awfully the country is doing, COVID-wise, on Monday’s Late Show.

“Right now, we’re in the thick of it,” said Dr. LaPook, dumping icy water on anyone’s rosy predictions about the theoretically approaching end to this unprecedented heath crisis. But what about those three vaccines that are already in Phase Three testing? Yeah, echoing another medical expert Donald Trump doesn’t listen to, LaPook said that “the end of this year, beginning of next year” is the very earliest we might—might—see a working vaccine made available to the public. (And that’s if Americans haven’t made things worse by not wearing face masks, ditching social distancing, and failing to addressing indoor ventilation to prepare for the coming winter.)


All right, but once an effective vaccine is rolled out, everything can just snap right back to the way it was, right? Well, not if, as one study shows, some one-third of Americans say they’re not going to take any vaccine right away. (Because freedom? The Bible? Jenny McCarthy? Who knows.) As LaPook put it, the so-called “herd immunity” thing (referring to “what percentage of the population needs to have immunity to protect people who aren’t immune”) only works if, say, 33 percent of people aren’t opting out. “It’s a significant problem, Stephen,” the good doctor said somberly, and that’s before he and Colbert got into the whole “lets open schools and see what happens” vibe Republicans and other virus fans are floating as first day of school approaches.

One father to another, Colbert and LaPook decried officials cramming kids back into overcrowded schools (with improper, outdated ventilation), with Colbert calling his beloved children “disease vectors,” and LaPook recalling how children are ”all over each other” as a matter of course. Again, without needing to name Donald Trump specifically (although Colbert certainly did), LaPook debunked the, well, bunk about children not being able to contract or transmit COVID-19, explaining—as one would to a child, or a sitting Republican president—that, while kids are less susceptible to the many serious, life-threatening complications associated with the virus, their parents, grandparents, and everyone else they get their sticky hands on are decidedly not. Talking about parents making the agonizing decision whether or not to send their kids back to school this month, LaPook once more derided the lack of national leadership in fighting the spread, calling the nation, “like 50 different countries,” some more negligently incompetent than others.

Ugh, what else, LaPook? The whole idea of just giving everyone Tom Hanks’ COVID-cured blood is a long shot. (Gifted antibodies aren’t nearly as effective.) Drugs like remdesivir and dexamethasone have positive but extremely limited effects. (LaPook and Colbert didn’t even bother dredging up Trump’s whole, irresponsible hydroxychloroquine hype.) Testing is widespread, which is good (although the often 7-day wait for results renders it moot), but LaPook reminded everyone that incubation periods mean that a negative test doesn’t mean you’re not cooking COVID inside when you take your negative-tested carcass over to grandma’s house—only a full 14-day quarantine after a test can protect people around you.

And, sure, LaPook did brighten up when talking about “monoclonal antibodies,” a “technological tour de force” that—as he dumbed it down for us—sort of puts a cap over the spiky parts of the coronavirus “crown,” theoretically preventing its invasiveness. And while “putting a cork on a dart” doesn’t exactly sound like the cure-all for all these darts lying all over the place, at least Dr. LaPook joined Dr. Anthony Fauci in the ranks of people who are willing to give America the unpleasant but inescapable truth that some YOLO musical has-beens wishing away the virus at a flesh-pressing gathering of shirtless motorcycle enthusiasts isn’t going to get us to shore.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.