After a long pandemic year, experts look to the future

One year after the first reported cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offered advice on how the new Biden administration can best tackle the pandemic. They discussed topics including testing, vaccines, and schools in a January 25, 2021 CNN article.

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, stressed the importance of improving the availability of affordable and rapid antigen tests that people can take at home. “I think this test is the most equitable way to approach fighting this pandemic today,” he said. “It is a test that can truly be scaled to every household, rich or poor. People can use it on their own terms, regardless of any politics, regardless of how they feel about the virus. … As long as we can get a large number of people using it twice a week, we can actually start to really contain this virus.”

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, advocated for quickly offering vaccines to the next priority groups as soon as they become available. He also said it’s crucial to communicate clearly about how people can get a vaccine. “The internet is great, but it is not great for everyone—those who don’t have it or those who are of an age that they find it hard to navigate,” he said.

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, called pandemic-related school closures “nothing short of a national emergency.” He recommended universal masking in schools, noting that teachers and adults at higher risk should use a three-layer surgical mask, or, if they’re not available, a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of it, which can provide over 91% efficiency for particle removal. He also recommended using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters or simply opening windows. “Even in cold weather areas, an inch or two inches can help improve the air exchange rate,” he said.

Another Harvard Chan School expert—research fellow Stephen Kissler—was interviewed on January 25 on WBUR about where the state of Massachusetts stands a year after its first coronavirus case.

Commenting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent decision to lift some restrictions in the state, Kissler said that if a contagious new variant starts to spread more widely, restrictions may have to be reimposed. Kissler also said he hopes that the state will move as quickly as possible to vaccinate all adults over age 65. In a recent study he co-authored, “the modeling showed very clearly that protecting the people with the highest risk of severe outcomes, which is by and large people who are older, has the greatest impact on reducing overall mortality from COVID.”

Read the CNN article: A pandemic playbook for a new year

Listen to the WBUR interview: An Epidemiologist On Where The Pandemic Stands In Mass., Nearly A Year After State’s 1st Case