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In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories in which they offer comments and context:
April 29: The 3 pandemic metrics that could tell us what’s next (Vox)
Hospital data, new data on emerging variants, and data on long COVID are three metrics that experts say they’re watching to shed light on what’s happening now with the pandemic and what’s likely to happen in the future. Commenting on long COVID, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “We need a much better study of long COVID. It is real and will likely lead to a sustained cost in terms of chronic illness for a large number of people, but how large that number is remains uncertain.”
April 27: Covid’s circling the White House. What are the risks to someone like Biden? (STAT)
Although age remains a risk factor with COVID, the threat of grave illness is much lower than it used to be because of vaccines and treatments, according to experts. Commenting on the risk faced by President Biden, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “The president is vaccinated, boosted, and will be receiving very good medical care. He’s also relatively healthy. Under the circumstances, it’s about as good as you can get.”
April 27: Another rare virus puzzle: They got sick, got treated, got covid again (Washington Post)
Some people with COVID who take the antiviral drug Paxlovid feel better and test negative, but after a few days feel worse and test positive again. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that viral loads can bounce around, but said it’s “exceptionally uncommon” for the viral load to plunge for a few days to a level suggesting they are negative, then go up again.
April 26: The Coronavirus Has Infected More Than Half of Americans, the C.D.C. Reports (New York Times)
One consequence of so many Americans having been infected with the coronavirus means that there could be many cases of long COVID to contend with, according to experts. “The long-term impacts on health care are not clear but certainly worth taking seriously, as a fraction of people will be struggling for a long time with the consequences,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
April 26: We’re Fighting Covid With Faulty Data (Bloomberg)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was one of several experts quoted in this article about how a lack of accurate data about COVID cases and vaccinations hampers the U.S. pandemic response.
April 25: Covid-19 data reporting is becoming less frequent, making trends harder to track (CNN)
Some experts worry that states’ decisions to scale back on reporting COVID-19 statistics—such as reporting new cases weekly instead of daily—will hinder efforts to fight the virus. “Things are not stable right now,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Even if I don’t reckon we are going to see [another] large surge, weekly reporting means that if I am wrong, we would learn about it later and so be able to do less about it.”
April 21: As mask mandates disappear, COVID is on the rise in Massachusetts (WGBH)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, was among Massachusetts public health experts expressing concern about mask requirements being dropped while COVID cases rise. “We’re seeing a lot of people, even people who have been somewhat cautious, people who have been vaccinated are being caught by the disease right now,” he said. Noting that a highly transmissible form of COVID is circulating, he added, “This was the wrong time for us to lift the mask mandates on planes and on public transportation.”
April 21: How to Avoid Getting Covid in a Mostly Mask-Free World (Washington Post)
Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs, said that one way to protect yourself from COVID as more people go maskless is to consider the ventilation and filtration of whatever setting you’re in to help you decide whether to wear a mask.
April 21: Snapshot of pandemic’s mental health impact on children (Harvard Gazette)
Young children and adolescents were among the people most negatively impacted by pandemic lockdowns, according to psychiatric epidemiologist Tamsin Ford. Ford spoke at a virtual event that was part of Harvard Chan School’s Population Mental Health Forum Series, hosted by Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology. She also noted that some kids who were already struggling with emotional issues actually seemed to do better during the pandemic.
April 21: Psychiatric Epidemiologist Tamsin Ford Talks Children’s Mental Health Amid Covid-19 (Harvard Crimson)
During the pandemic, an increase in mental health issues in children has been concentrated within particular groups, such as those who are struggling financially or who have pre-existing mental health conditions, according to psychiatric epidemiologist Tamsin Ford, who spoke at a Population Mental Health Forum Series event.
April 20: The End of Airplane Masking Feels Momentous (The Atlantic)
A federal judge in Florida repealed the U.S. mask mandate on transportation networks, and now the Department of Justice is appealing the ruling. If the case loses on appeal, the federal government’s ability to enact public health restrictions could be limited in the future, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “If something unpredictable happens next, where we need CDC to put in mandates, that authority’s in question,” he said.
April 20: Masks Aren’t Required to Fly. Should You Still Wear One? (Bloomberg)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said he thinks the end of the federal mandate to wear masks on airplanes will make flying somewhat more risky. He noted that people should be careful right now because U.S. cases are edging upward and there could be a new surge with new sub-variants of omicron BA.2.
April 20: Do I still need to wear a mask? A guide to help you decide. (Washington Post)
Air on planes “is extraordinarily safe,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. But he added that proper precautionary measures, such as masks, can help. “The air system itself won’t do the job fully,” he said.
April 20: Public health experts are split on whether we still need masks on airplanes (Salon)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, expressed concern about the removal of the mask mandate on airplanes. One reason, he said is that “right now, a third of the population is not vaccinated, and even more are vaccinated but not boosted—so if you look at that statistic it means in a row of three people, one of those people could very well not be vaccinated.” He said that for that reason, multiple layers of protection—like masking in addition to ventilation—is just “good public health sense.”
April 20: Airlines say mask mandates aren’t needed anymore. Are filters enough to prevent COVID on airplanes? (USA Today)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said that air filtration systems on planes are “remarkable” and make the air as clean as an operating room, but noted that masks provide an additional layer of protection.
April 19: Trump-appointed judge striking down CDC’s mask mandate is “an assault on public health,” says expert (Salon)
Many public health experts disagree with a recent ruling by a federal judge that the CDC’s mask mandate on public transportation was unlawful. “In my mind, the ruling itself is an assault on public health; it’s very one-sided,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. “I see this more as a political act than a real, careful assessment of public health.”
April 19: You don’t have to wear a mask on planes. Do it anyway, experts say. (Washington Post)
Although on April 18 a judge tossed out the federal requirement to wear masks on planes and other forms of transportation, experts say that people who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus should continue to wear the best masks possible, such as an N95. “On an airplane, we’re in very, very close proximity to one another,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. “So therefore, continuing to wear masks is something I’m going to do and I would recommend others to do, especially if they want to avoid getting the disease.”
April 19: The CDC’s mask mandate for public transportation has been reversed (NPR’s All Things Considered)
Even though there is good ventilation on airplanes, you still share air with the people in the few rows around you, said Edward Nardell, professor in the departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “If you’re immediately next to somebody who is highly infectious, your best protection is a mask—and a tight-fitting one at that—rather than depending on the ventilation,” he said.
April 19: Airlines May Be Done With Masks, But Covid Isn’t Done With Their Customers (Observer)
Edward Nardell, professor in the departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said it’s understandable why airlines might welcome the end of mask mandates. “I felt bad for airline agents having to fight with passengers to put a mask on and then tell them, ‘here’s a drink. You can take the mask off.’ That’s been a hole in masking on airplanes all along.”
April 19: Experts react to airlines dropping mask rules, and share how they plan to stay safe from Omicron variants while flying (Business Insider)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said he’s concerned about removing the federal mask mandate for airplanes at a time when there’s a surge of the BA.2 omicron variant. He noted, “I’m flying next week. I will be wearing an N95 mask, and I’ll be wearing another mask over it, to keep it real tight.” He recommended that travelers and crew continue to wear masks.
April 19: New CDC team: A weather service to forecast what’s next in pandemic (Washington Post)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, discussed the work of the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA), for which he serves as science director. Rebecca Kahn, a Harvard Chan School postdoc and senior scientist at CFA, was also mentioned.
April 19: Better ventilation would create a healthier workplace — but companies have to invest (NPR)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, is among a growing coalition of epidemiologists and aerosol scientists who say that improved ventilation could be a powerful tool against the coronavirus—if businesses are willing to invest the money. “The science is airtight,” he said. “The evidence is overwhelming.”
April 19: Covid hasn’t given up all its secrets. Here are 6 mysteries experts hope to unravel (STAT)
One of the mysteries about COVID that scientists hope to figure out is what future waves will look like. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that one possibility is that SARS-CoV-2 is so infectious that the U.S. never sees waves truly bottom out. If there continue to be several thousand cases each day, that means “we’re going to kind of be dealing with this at some level at all times of the year,” with “substantial ebbs and flows in different places at different times.”
April 19: See JPMorgan Chase’s big bet on the future of the office (Fast Company)
A proposed new office tower in Manhattan has been designed to high environmental standards, taking into account lessons learned from the pandemic. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, advised on building’s ventilation.
April 18: Kizzmekia Corbett on the pandemic, public service, and her path to becoming a scientist (STAT)
This Q&A featured Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, who helped develop the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while working at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center. Asked her main takeaway from the pandemic, Corbett said, “Probably that you shouldn’t take anything for granted. That the way that we live and the way that we assume that there will be a vaccine or a therapy, or there will be something at the end of the road for us because we’ve kind of sat in this bubble of privilege—I think that the pandemic really washed a lot of structural problems ashore.”
April 15: Is herd immunity for Covid-19 still possible? (CNN)
A number of experts are doubtful that we might reach herd immunity from COVID-19—a point at which the virus fails to spread because so many people are shielded from infection, mostly through vaccination. But Barry Bloom, the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that one way to get there would be to make better vaccines.
April 15: Have We Already Ruined Our Next COVID Summer? (The Atlantic)
Experts discussed the factors that could influence how COVID plays out in the coming months. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that the patterns of viral spread “depend a lot on what we as a society do, and how we interact.”
April 14: 2 new omicron variants are spreading in N.Y. and elsewhere. Here’s what we know (NPR)
Two new omicron variants—known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, appear to be causing a surge in COVID-19 cases in central New York. “It looks like [BA.2.12.1 variant] has an advantage … It has certainly rapidly grown in some places,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noting that some of the variants’ mutations could help the virus evade the immune system. He noted, however, that “the total numbers of cases are not huge at present.”
April 14: Workers Are Getting Angry About Companies Ending Vaccine Mandates (Bloomberg News)
Nearly a third of employers who previously required COVID shots have dropped or plan to drop the requirement, according to a recent data. “Rolling back mandates seems to imply that the pandemic threat is somehow over when it’s not,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and Massachusetts public health commissioner. He noted that the only way to put the pandemic behind is “is to have the highest vaccination rates possible.”
April 13: Inside the Lab that Identified Omicron (Think Global Health)
This article examines the work of the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) and Sikhulile Moyo, who directs the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory and is a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School. The BHP lab was the first to identify the Omicron COVID-19 variant, and has “produced groundbreaking work that has improved health outcomes around the world, perhaps most notably in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission,” according to the article.
April 13: “I didn’t know if I was going to wake up”: ‘Mild’ omicron can be severe (KUMN)
Even though COVID-19 cases that don’t require hospitalization are technically classified as “mild” or “moderate,” characterizing them that way could be misleading, because illnesses caused by Omicron could still be serious, according to experts. Justin Feldman, research associate at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, said that calling Omicron “mild”—which a number of officials did during the surge—compounded COVID hospitalizations and deaths since Thanksgiving.
April 12: Teen mental health in the pandemic: CDC data ‘echo a cry for help’ (Medical News Today)
Teens’ mental well-being has been on the decline in recent years, and it declined even further during the pandemic, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teens are contending with emotional and physical abuse at home, racism, and school disruptions. Archana Basu, research scientist, recommended communicating with children to help them recognize what they’re feeling, and validating their emotions.
April 12: Covid cases rise in Northeast as BA.2 omicron subvariant takes hold (Washington Post)
Coronavirus cases are rising in the Northeast, driven by the BA.2 omicron subvariant, but experts say it appears unlikely that there will be a huge surge. Increases in hospitalizations have so far been modest—possibly because immunity rose from the explosion of omicron cases over the winter—although that could change. “BA.2 is going to infect a lot of people who have so far evaded the virus,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “The question is how many of them are vulnerable to severe outcomes. Hopefully it is not many, and hopefully it will be easily handled.”
April 12: Covid in the Northeast (New York Times)
Although COVID cases are rising in the Northeast, experts aren’t sure if that means there will be a larger surge. “There’s definitely something coming,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “But depending on all the moving parts it might be a ripple relative to previous waves.” He added that “the most serious consequences will, as ever, be mostly determined by how many people are vaccinated/boosted.”
April 10: This invisible Covid-19 mitigation measure is finally getting the attention it deserves (CNN)
Good ventilation is increasingly being seen as a key tool for minimizing the risk of COVID-19, according to experts. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that, in indoor spaces, “everybody in a room together is constantly breathing air that just came out of the lungs of other people in that room”—he describes it as “respiratory backwash.” Normally it’s not a problem, “but if someone’s sick and infectious … those aerosols can carry the virus. That’s a problem.” Ventilation and filtration can reduce the aerosols in indoor air and lower the risk of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, he said.
April 7: Seven days, 18,000 deaths: A look at omicron’s deadliest week (NBC News)
More than 125,000 people in the U.S. died of COVID-19 during the Omicron surge, and more than 18,400 died in just one week, between Jan. 30 and Feb. 5. Most of the fatalities were among older adults and middle-aged Blacks, and death rates were highest in the South and Southeastern U.S. Justin Feldman, research associate at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, noted that the Omicron wave was particularly deadly among older people because they mount a less effective immune response and often have other serious health conditions. He also noted that differences in racial COVID death rates are due to pervasive structural and economic differences.
April 7: The Covid questions we still can’t answer (Politico)
It’s very difficult to assess the effectiveness of COVID prevention measures such as mask mandates, social distancing, and closing bars or schools, according to experts. That’s because people use various combinations of these measures at the same time, making it hard to tease apart the relative benefits of one over another. Answering questions about COVID prevention measures has also been complicated by politics and assaults on public health. “A concerted and deliberate operation has been mounted to discredit public health advice, and it has been getting noisier recently,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He said that people choose whatever data they want to focus on, for whatever reason they want, a phenomenon he calls “choose your own pandemic.”
April 6: COVID vaccine plus infection can lead to months of immunity (Nature)
Three new studies suggest that, prior to the spread of Omicron, vaccination provided a benefit even for those who had a prior bout with COVID-19. Miguel Hernan, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said that the studies show the near-universal benefit of full vaccination. Although some nations have encouraged people who have had COVID-19 to receive only a single vaccine dose, that move “may be justified in a setting of vaccine scarcity, but not otherwise,” according to Hernan.
April 6: 3 takeaways ahead of potential fall Covid booster campaign (Politico)
The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel is beginning to outline U.S. COVID booster strategy moving forward—who should receive additional doses and when, and whether and how the vaccines should be reformulated to account for new and circulating variants. Experts noted that much is unknown about how the virus will evolve, which poses challenges for deciding what course to take. Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, was quoted.
April 5: Every child deserves good health. That requires urgent action on equity. (Boston Globe)
In this opinion piece, Dean Michelle Williams and Kevin Churchwell, president and CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital, recommended three ways to address the inequities in health outcomes faced by Black children, including improving maternal and child health, early-childhood support, and behavioral health and wellness.
April 5: ‘All the shrapnel that’s in my back’: Defiant Robert Redfield blasts former CDC directors for criticism during Covid-19 (STAT)
At an event hosted by Harvard Chan School, five former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed what has gone wrong at the agency, including perceived politicization during the pandemic.
April 5: Biden is pressured to end mask mandates on public transportation (NPR’s Morning Edition)
Mask requirements on public transportation have become increasingly contentious. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said that if the BA.2 variant, currently at “a very low rumble,” stays that way, “I think we’re at the point where we can lift that requirement to have masks worn on planes and in public transportation.” But if the variant causes a big surge in COVID cases, as it has in Europe, then it may be wise to keep the mask mandate in place, he said.
April 4: Cost of distancing may outweigh benefits for healthy adults (Harvard Gazette)
Even though the pandemic still poses risks to many people, there are also health risks to additional time spent socially distant from family and friends, according to experts. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that pandemic-related school closures have been tough on tweens and teens, many of whom now lag developmentally in terms of how to act with peers. She also noted that reconnecting with friends can be stressful because people have different risk tolerances for togetherness.
April 4: It’s time to consider relaxing mask requirements on flights (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, argued for lifting mask requirements during flights because “one of the safest parts of an entire trip is when travelers are seated in the airplane and the systems are running.” Allen also recommended that airplanes keep their systems running when they’re parked at the gate, and that airlines require people to mask when boarding and disembarking, “when there is greater mixing of people in the cabin and when people are exerting themselves more and therefore emitting more respiratory particles.”
April 4: African clinical trial denied access to key COVID drug Paxlovid (Nature)
Experts, including Melissa Barber, a doctoral candidate in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Global Health and Population, discussed Pfizer’s denial of a request to provide supplies of its antiviral drug Paxlovid so that it can be tested in a large African clinical trial. Barber noted that there’s a pressing need to test Paxlovid in a range of populations. “Clinically, we might expect populations with different comorbidities—for example HIV or diabetes—might have a range of side effects of possibly effectiveness,” she noted.
April 2: With COVID cases low, Biden and Democrats struggle to get more money to prepare for the next wave (Boston Globe)
Amid Congressional wrangling over how much money will be allocated to fight COVID in the months ahead, Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted, “The fact is that COVID is still here, that it still poses a threat both in its current form and in the form of future variants and we’d be foolish to not be preparing in some way for that.”
April 1: Creating the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine (Clyburn Chronicles podcast)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, discussed her work helping create the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
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January and February 2020