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The season will feature two timelines, one that picks up where season 16 left off — Richard's (James Pickens Jr.) okay, Teddy (Kim Raver) and Owen (Kevin McKidd) are not — and one that throws the doctors into the chaos of COVID. "We're hearing statistics in the news and we're reading about the impact on the medical community, but it wasn't until the writers' room sat down with the doctor advisers we've always worked with and saw the change in them that it hit home for us," showrunner Krista Vernoff tells EW of the decision to address the crisis in a major way. "This pandemic is breaking people, it's breaking doctors, and we have an opportunity to help drive home the costs to the medical community."

And yes, if COVID exists on Grey's, the same can be said for its sister show Station 19, though Vernoff says it "looks and feels different" on the two shows. One bit of hope? It won't be all pandemic all the time. "We're still giving you laugh-out-loud funny moments and romance," Vernoff promises.

A version of this article appears in the November issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or buy it here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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