Covid Sheltering in Place: Q&A with Lisa Ling and Paul Song

Covid Sheltering in Place: Q&A with Lisa Ling and Paul Song
  1. How is your health? 

Paul: We are all safe and healthy. We are trying to keep my 88 year old mom safe by limiting her exposure and contact to people outside of our immediate family.

  1. What have you been doing to keep you and your family healthy – physically and mentally?

Lisa: Paul and I have always been very diligent about working out and this sheltered home period has not changed that. The only difference is that Paul can’t go to the gym as he has liked to do all of his life. He has invested in a Peleton and uses it pretty religiously. It’s been pretty impressive in fact. And I go jogging about 5 times a week because the beaches and the parks in our neighborhood have been closed. There are a lot of people in the streets every day so I have started going running at night and it actually has been really nice. There are very few people on the streets and it really is a great time to decompress and we make our 2 kids do some sort of physical activity every day, whether it is swimming or riding bikes or going for walks. Paul just invested in a trampoline. If it were up to them, they would just sit home and watch iPads all day. We have to make them get outside and get some air and move their bodies.

  1. Paul, as an oncologist, do you have any recommendations for those who have cancer and what they can do aside from social distancing and washing their hands to stay as healthy as possible?

Paul: I have been recommending all cancer patients also wear a mask and gloves when going to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies.

  1. Paul, can you share your Alzheimer’s work? Any progress? What are you able to work on while we are all hunkered down at home?

Paul: My biotech company is doing work that has been deemed essential, but we have about 2/3 of our staff working from home. I have been coming into the office 3-4 days a week and we are practicing very thorough measures like individual temperature monitoring and social distancing with masks. With regard to our work in AD, we will soon begin a Phase I clinical trial using immunotherapy to identify and remove beta and tau amyloid proteins. Unfortunately, the start of this has been delayed due to the COVID-19 situation.

  1. Lisa, production on most film/TV projects have been halted. Have you been able to continue to work on projects? If not, what has it been like to suddenly stop traveling and not being able to work?

Lisa: The show that I executive produce and host, This Is Life, is very travel intensive so I have had to stop. Typically, we would shoot 8 episodes per season and in this season 7, we were only able to complete 6. I was also about to start production on another show for HBO Max called Birth, Wedding, Funeral and we were about to leave for Morocco the night that the President gave the speech about Coronavirus and halting all travel to and from Europe so even though I was heading to Morocco, we aborted that mission. HBO shortly thereafter halted all travel for all of its shows. So that’s been really difficult because for most of my life, travel has been a huge component of my work. But I am currently hosting a series for Johnson & Johnson called The Road to A Vaccine and it’s not something that I might typically do, but since I am home it’s been really great. I haven’t read a book since all of this started because I find myself reading non-stop about Covid-19 and so the opportunity to do this series and interview the foremost experts in science and health has been terrific for me.

  1. Any thoughts on how to be productive/setting new routines during this time that have been helpful and you’d like to share?

Lisa: It was very important to me from the very beginning to make sure that our kids adhered to very strict routines. So I have them scheduled throughout the day. They do have some free time in the afternoon but they are pretty scheduled from the morning to the early afternoon. We are very lucky because both of them do school online. Particularly our first grader. Their school hasn’t missed a beat. They literally have just shifted gears. They are teaching their normal lessons but via Zoom and we are very fortunate that we are part of a school that has been able to pretty seamlessly transition to online.

  1. How have you and your kids adjusted?

Lisa: We have gotten into a routine. I wouldn’t really call this adjusted. Every weekend, we really miss doing our going out for breakfast and doing our thing but we have settled into a routine and are quite used to it in fact.

  1. What have been some of the challenges for you as a family?

Paul: We both have been traveling a bit each month and try not to both be away at the same time. So, this has been the first time where we are all home for an extended period of time and took a little bit of time to adjust. We have heard that the divorce rate skyrocketed in China right after the quarantine and have joked about how hard it is to have everyone at home all the time, but we have adjusted surprisingly well and are really enjoying this time together.

Also, having two young kids (7 and 4) home 24/7 requires constant attention and supervision.  The biggest challenge is trying to keep the kids on a daily schedule and focused on their online school classes. It is easy for one kid to distract another, so we try to separate our two girls and have an adult supervise each of them to ensure they are taking their homeschooling seriously.  We also both like to exercise and with the Santa Monica Stairs and local gyms all closed, have had to find other ways to do so.

Lisa: Just being with each other so much. We tend to get sick of each other (laughter) pretty easily but by the same token, I really recognize this as a very special time for us. Paul and I travel a lot for our work so the opportunity for us to be together has been quite incredible for us. The challenges are …it would be nice to interact with other people and be able to go out and go to restaurants. I don’t need to go back to complete normal but being around the same people non-stop can be a little draining. But I refuse to complain because I just think of the frontline healthcare workers and how they risk their lives every day and I refuse to complain.

  1. Any thoughts for parents who are now with their young kids 24/7?   Anything that has worked for you – any new routines?

Paul: It is really important to keep them on a daily schedule and make them get out of their pajamas, brush their teeth, and eat their breakfast as if they were going to school. We have supplemented their online school with other online classes like Mathnasium for our oldest and are working with a Chinese language tutor who teaches on-line for both girls.

We also try to make sure they get some physical activity outdoors. Whether it be biking in the back alley or swimming.  And we try to have a steady supply of crafting materials and bake mixes.

  1. How are your parents handling the situation?

Paul: Both of our Moms are handling the situation great and are very zen. They both live two blocks away, and the only outside interaction for both of them is with our family when they come over for dinner most nights. But, they are practicing good social distancing and hygiene measures and use masks. Lisa’s Dad is at an assisted living facility in Sacramento and also doing well, although he is a bit more stir crazy as he cannot go out to eat as he very much likes to do.

  1. South Korea and the U.S. reported their first cases on the same date, Jan 20th to the WHO. South Korea was able to contain the spread, unlike the U.S. What did South Korea do to mitigate the damage?

Paul: Back in 2015, South Korea experienced more deaths from MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) than any other country outside of the Middle East. It was a source of major shame and outrage. After that, Korea decided this would never happen again and they put together a rapid response pandemic task force. As soon as the very first case was announced in South Korea, the task force convened a secret emergency meeting with 20 biotech leaders and asked them to develop a test ASAP. The first test was developed within a week and soon Korea had several other tests available as well that enabled them to begin aggressive testing (on everyone), tracking, and isolation/quarantine measures for anyone who tested positive.

In addition, the were able to use cell phone and credit card data to track where infected individuals had been over the course of the past week or so, and then contact traced any other individual that was nearby over that time period so they all could be tested.

This allowed their country to stay open with minimal disruptions.

  1. What lessons can we learn from the way they handled it?

Paul: Aggressive testing and contact tracing are essential if you want to keep society fully open.

  1. Have you spoken to anyone on the ground in Korea or other countries? What has their experience been like? (as a comparison to how Americans are handling it)

Paul: I have spoken to friends and doctors in Korea and Italy.  Korea was the model of how to handle this outbreak. They were proactive and aggressive. As a result they did not have to shut down their economy and had very little mortality.  My Italian doctor friend told me that Italy was very slow to grasp the severity of this virus and allowed significant travel from China to continue until it was too late. They then did not see this as a major issue until a tsunami of infections came at once and overwhelmed their healthcare system.

  1. There has been a rise in anti-Asian racist aggression. Lisa, you were attacked online (as have I – it’s so infuriating). What can we do to abate this racist behavior, and not create more stress and fear?

Lisa: This crisis has brought out the best and the worst in people. I have witnessed some incredibly selfless acts of kindness. People willing to take risks for other people and really valiant efforts to want to work as a collective. I have also witnessed and been the recipient of some very hostile messages via social media. One that even threatened our children. That was very disheartening. I think because I have worked in the media for so long, I have developed thick skin. But the tone of these messages are so hostile and vile. I have never really experienced anything quite like it. Both Paul and I growing up in non-diverse communities, we were teased a lot. I know Paul was bullied quite a bit. The level of just hatred and vitriol is just very concerning to me. But I have been lucky that it has just been online taunts and online attacks. There are so many people who have been physically attacked. For that reason, I think that it is imperative for people like us, who have some kind of profile to speak up and speak out against it.

What can we do to abate this racist behavior? It is as though we are not stressed enough. It is really important to speak out and call people out. But also to clal out the really incorrigible racist acts against Africans in China and around the world. I think if we are going to stand up against racist attacks, we have to stand up for all communities. I think that is really important. I think not ignoring or brushing under the table is really important, especially when it comes to Asian Americans. How people can conflate the actions of an authoritarian government and American citizens is just a mark of ignorance. We need to call it out as such.

  1. On a kinder, happier note – there have been some extraordinary acts of kindness that have come from this pandemic. What have you witnessed?

Lisa: I have seen this incredible outpouring of support for our frontline healthcare workers. I am just in awe of them. They are our soldiers on the frontlines and they deserve to be taken care of. They deserve to have their school loans relieved. They deserve hazard pay. I think we really need to continue to help the frontline healthcare workers. In fact, I think that is the reason we need to continue social distancing and being ultra cautious about how we open our economy back up because it’s those people who are going to be overwhelmed if the numbers don’t start to decrease or start to level out.

  1. Have you discovered any fun / funny activities, shows, videos – online or off that has helped to get your minds off the current situation that you would recommend?

Paul: Our girls have been working with Paul’s sister to come up with short movie ideas which they then develop a plot and simple script for and record on an iPhone.  We also allow them to watch a little more TV than before the crisis. Disney+ has been a big help!


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