“I started sleeping in the
guest room in the basement.”

Dr. Michelle Au: “I started sleeping in the guest room in the basement.”


For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Dr. Michelle Au—an anesthesiologist at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital—describes the preparations at her hospital and explains why intubating patients is one of the riskiest procedures for physicians. (Au was interviewed on March 19.)

I first started hearing about the virus after Christmas. But the news still felt like something distant. It was in China, so you’re watching with this detached interest. I am in the unusual position of being a Chinese American physician with a public health degree who also happens to be running for office [Au is a Democratic candidate for the 48th state Senate district, which incorporates parts of Fulton and Gwinnett counties]. I was talking with voters in the Chinese community who said that I should be speaking out on the issue more.

I probably should have paid more attention. I should have taken it more seriously. But at the time I was almost loath to wade into what I felt was a niche concern that was distant from the country and from our state, because I am running for state office. And especially as a Chinese candidate I was concerned about focusing too much on what were at the time non-local concerns. There were no cases in the U.S. Obviously, we’re in a different situation now.