Meredith Grey and Grey Sloan Memorial coworkers will face a monumental challenge in the 17th season of the long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. During the “Quaranstreaming: Comfort TV That Keeps Us Going” virtual panel on Tuesday (July 21), executive producer Krista Vernoff confirmed Grey’s Anatomy will tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming season.

“We’re going to address this pandemic for sure,” she said, explaining that there is “no way to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes.” Vernoff also shared that the show’s writers will meet with real-life doctors in order to hear their stories about dealing with the ongoing pandemic.

“Every year, we have doctors come and tell us their stories, and usually they’re telling their funniest or craziest stories. This year, it has felt more like therapy,” Vernoff continued. “The doctors come in and we’re the first people they’re talking to about these types of experiences they’re having. They are literally shaking and trying not to cry, they’re pale, and they’re talking about it as war — a war that they were not trained for.”

Vernoff revealed this will likely be an important part of Dr. Owen Hunt’s storyline in season 17. “That’s been one of our big conversations about Owen, is that he’s actually trained for this in a way that most of the other doctors aren’t,” Vernoff explained. She added that it’s been “really painful” to hear about these real pandemic stories. “I feel like our show has an opportunity and a responsibility to tell some of those stories,” she said.

Vernoff also teased romantic drama brewing for Meredith and her friends, as well. “Our conversations have been constantly about how do we keep alive humor and romance while we tell these really painful stories,” said.

Will you be tuning in to Grey’s Anatomy when it returns?

[Elvis Duran]