Harvard Chan School Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds across the world, the Harvard Chan School community has provided influential research, policy advice, and public education. These highlights represent a sampling of efforts as of mid-April.

Trusted Voices

The School’s researchers have been among the most quoted experts on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, becoming trusted voices on topics such as the projected course of the virus and guidelines for minimizing the risk of contracting it. Harvard Chan faculty members—including epidemiologists from the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD) Caroline Buckee, Yonatan Grad, William Hanage, Marc Lipsitch, and Michael Mina; health policy and global health experts Mary Bassett, Ashish Jha, Howard Koh, and K. “Vish” Viswanath; healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen; public health leadership expert Leonard Marcus; and others— have spoken to hundreds of media outlets around the world, including through daily press conferences organized by the School’s Office of Communications. Faculty members have also authored op-eds, participated in public panel discussions through Zoom, built up enormous Twitter followings, and raised awareness around issues including a link between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths, the spread of misinformation, and protection of vulnerable populations.

Tracking the virus and “flattening the curve”

A study by co-senior authors Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of CCDD, found that intermittent social distancing for many months may be necessary to keep numbers of critically ill patients at a manageable level. Another CCDD study, released in April, projected transmission dynamics through the post-pandemic period. Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and CCDD associate director, and Satchit Balsari, assistant professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, are co-leading the COVID-19 Mobility Data Network, a team of infectious-disease epidemiologists located at universities around the world who are working in partnership with tech companies including Facebook to use aggregated mobility data in support of the COVID-19 response. Surveys were launched by Harvard Chan School researchers—led by David Bloom and David Canning, Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck, and Josiemer Mattei and Sebastien Haneuse.

Technological Innovations

An interactive tool launched in March aimed to help local leaders around the U.S. identify gaps in hospital capacity ahead of a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. Developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute and ProPublica, the app provides best- and worst-case capacity scenarios by region. Apps developed by interdisciplinary, multi-institutional teams—How We Feel, led by Xihong Lin, professor of biostatistics; Beiwe, led by Jukka-Pekka Onnela, associate professor of biostatistics; and COVID Symptom Tracker, led by Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases—gather real-time data to aid response efforts.

Advancing Testing, Treatment, and Vaccination

Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues are modeling how different therapeutics might help curb the pandemic. The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, partnering with state officials and local hospitals, converted one of its labs into a COVID-19 testing facility that can process 2,000 or more samples each day. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, helped adapt the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing protocol at the lab. Diagnostic technology at Aldatu Biosciences—developed by research associates Iain MacLeod and Christopher Rowley—played an important role in providing the needed reagents and kits that helped scale up testing in Massachusetts. The technology was born in the lab of Harvard AIDS pioneer Max Essex and nurtured by entrepreneurship resources on campus. In April, the School announced a joint effort with the Human Vaccines Project called the Human Immunomics Initiative (HII), which will develop artificial intelligence–powered models of immunity that can be used to speed the design and testing of vaccines and therapeutics for a wide range of diseases. HII will focus on determining the principles of effective immunity in aging populations, the world’s largest-growing demographic, which has an immense disease burden and high morbidity and mortality in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Students Step Up

Hundreds of students have volunteered to assist with reaching out to people who may have come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. They are working with both Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) and the Academic Health Department Consortium, a collaboration among 10 different schools and universities in the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The HUHS work focuses directly on the Harvard community, while the DPH collaborative supports the work of many of the state’s 351 local boards of health.


The School joined with Thrive Global, a behavior-change technology company founded by Arianna Huffington and the CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of entertainment and sports firm Creative Artists Agency, to launch an initiative to provide first-responder workers with physical and psychological resources as they serve on the front lines of the pandemic. #FirstRespondersFirst provides essential supplies and equipment for protecting health care workers, in addition to online workshops, virtual training, coaching, and content aimed at helping improve their physical and mental well-being.