FRONTLINE’s First Major Documentary on COVID-19 Premieres Tonight


April 21, 2020

How did the United States become the country with the worst known coronavirus outbreak in the world? 

Tonight, we uncover key answers by going back to the beginning.

Coronavirus Pandemic, FRONTLINE’s first major documentary on the coronavirus crisis, is a startling tale of two Washingtons — tracing the very different preparations and responses by the federal government and by Washington state, where the first known U.S. case of COVID-19 was identified back in January. 

Veteran science reporter Miles O’Brien has been on the ground in Washington state covering this story for FRONTLINE for over a month. In tonight’s documentary, Miles tells the vivid story of America’s “patient one,” a 35-year-old man who had recently returned to Seattle from Wuhan, China. Miles hears from some of the first doctors, public health experts, and politicians in the U.S. to confront the virus, and finds they had been preparing for this kind of threat and on alert for quite some time.

“We had a game plan in place already,” Dr. George Diaz, who treated patient one, tells O’Brien.

But, as tonight’s report details, in those critical first weeks, that sense of urgency and alarm wasn’t being expressed by President Trump and his administration, which continued to insist that the risk was small.

Coronavirus Pandemic traces the halting federal response, identifying early warnings and missed opportunities to potentially save lives as the outbreak spread — from the failure of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 test, to an ongoing struggle for critical medical and protective equipment that some officials liken to the “Hunger Games.”

With more than 700,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., and a death toll of more than 40,000, our documentary takes a crucial and sobering look at how America reached this point and the challenges that lie ahead.

Coronavirus Pandemic premieres tonight at a special time, 9/8c, on PBS stations (check local listings), and will be available to stream online and in the PBS Video App beginning at 7/6c. 

We hope you stay healthy and watch this important report.

Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer, FRONTLINE



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