ALEXIS MADRIGAL was in his kitchen on Wednesday, March 4, when his phone rang. It was a warm, sunny evening in Oakland, California, and Madrigal, a staff writer at The Atlantic, was cooking dinner for his two children. On the line was Robinson Meyer, a colleague at The Atlantic, who wanted to talk about the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Madrigal and Meyer had previously discussed how they might help people understand how little testing had been done. This time, Madrigal recalls, Meyer spoke with a new sense of urgency.

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