Coronavirus news – August 2022

For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.

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:

August 30: Where to Find Affordable COVID Tests After the Free Kits Are Gone (VeryWell Health)

The government’s program for free COVID-19 test kits is ending on September 2. With testing rates already dropping in the U.S., Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that he worries that “reduced availability of free tests will depress testing even more.”

August 29: Using AI as a pandemic crystal ball (Harvard Gazette)

In this Q&A, Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, discussed an artificial intelligence model she helped develop that can predict which coronavirus variants will likely dominate and cause surges.

August 29: How it started vs. how it’s going: What we’ve learned about COVID-19 (Boston Globe)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was among experts discussing the differences between what we thought we knew about COVID at the beginning of the pandemic and what we know now, in terms of transmission, mutations and variants, and herd immunity.

August 24: The two big pandemic investments we still need to make (Vox)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, discussed the importance of improving air quality indoors, and Lisa Robinson, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Center for Health Decision Science, spoke about the importance of being thoughtful about real-life ramifications of implementing particular policies.

August 22: Health professionals warn COVID poised to take off in fall (Boston25)

Tori Cowger, health and human rights fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, was among several health experts expressing concern that COVID cases are likely to rise in Massachusetts as schools reopen, given that few interventionary measures are in place. Cowger co-authored a recent study, still under peer review, showing that districts that lifted mask mandates between February and June 2021 experienced more COVID cases than those districts that kept masking in place.

August 18: Gujarat Covid death undercount ‘proof’ (The Telegraph India)

Estimated excess deaths in Gujarat were twice the Indian state’s official COVID-19 death numbers, according to a study co-authored by Satchit Balsari, assistant professor in the Department of Global Health and Population. “The vast majority of these excess deaths likely represent deaths from COVID-19 in the absence of any other known catastrophe,” the authors wrote.

August 16: Why pregnancy and birth complications are up during the pandemic (WBEZ Chicago)

In this radio interview, Jose Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management, discussed a new study he co-authored showing that pregnancy and birth outcomes worsened in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

August 16: Your kid’s school needs better ventilation to help keep COVID-19 in check (TIME)

Experts discussed the importance of improving ventilation in schools, noting that it can help reduce COVID-19 transmission as well as boost other student health metrics. “Decades of scientific research show when you improve indoor air quality, you improve student health, student thinking, and student performance,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.

August 14: Why it’s worth keeping ‘close eye’ on new Langya virus that’s infecting dozens in China (CBC News)

A new virus is infecting people in China—the Langya henipavirus—and it’s likely that the virus spread from animals to humans. Experts say the world should brace for more viruses like this to spill over into human populations in the years ahead. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard Chan School’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), said, “There is a bit of déjà vu here,” referring to COVID. “This is yet another example of pathogen moving from an animal to a person and, as we know, that is the root cause of most of the emerging infections in the world.”

August 12: COVID fades as major issue ahead of midterm elections (Newsweek)

The pandemic may have faded from the spotlight amid the public’s focus on issues such as inflation and abortion. But experts caution that COVID remains a threat. “We’re making progress, lots of progress,” said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, “but our lives are still disrupted” by the pandemic. He noted that there’s still a lot to learn about how the virus mutates and how it may behave moving forward.

August 11: CDC loosens coronavirus guidance, signaling strategic shift (Washington Post)

New relaxed COVID guidelines from the CDC are “a concession to realism, to the way that a lot of people are handling this,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He said that the new guidelines are “entirely reasonable” but also added, “My major concern is whether they will continue to be entirely reasonable given the unpredictable dynamics of the virus.”

August 11: CDC relaxes COVID-19 guidelines, drops quarantine and social distancing recommendations (PBS NewsHour)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that new relaxed COVID guidelines prioritize keeping children in school as much as possible. He noted that, under previous isolation policies, millions of students had to stay home from school, even though the virus is typically low risk for kids. “Entire classrooms of kids had to miss school if they were deemed a close contact,” he said. “The closed schools and learning disruption have been devastating.”

August 10: New study based on Mass. schools finds masks protected students, staff from COVID-19 (Boston Globe)

A preprint study found that Massachusetts schools that removed masking requirements in early 2022 saw significantly higher COVID case rates among students and staff compared with districts that kept masking requirements. Tori Cowger, health and human rights fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and lead author of the study, said, “The big takeaway from this study is that universal masking policies in schools remain an important policy tool, among other mitigation measures, to consider during times of high community transmission.”

August 10: The US is on a Covid plateau, and no one’s sure what will happen next (CNN)

More than 40,000 people are hospitalized with COVID in the U.S. and there have been more than 400 deaths a day over the past month—stubbornly high numbers. Experts aren’t sure what the virus will do next. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that “there’s likely to be one step forward, two steps back” in terms of progress in the pandemic.

August 8: A ‘staggering’ number of people couldn’t get care during the pandemic, poll finds (NPR)

A poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard Chan School found that, among households that had a serious illness during the past year, one in five respondents said they had trouble accessing care during the pandemic. Mary Findling, assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, called the number of people unable to access care “staggering” and noted that there remain racial gaps in health care between Black and White Americans. “Looking across a broad range of measures, it’s better to be a White patient than a Black patient in America today. And when you just stop and think about that, that’s horrible.”

August 5: With hundreds still dying of Covid daily, CDC is sticking to current restrictions (NBC News)

The CDC doesn’t plan to ease up on COVID restrictions at this time, given that case numbers are continuing at high levels. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that “it’s reasonable to suggest that holding onto interventions is a good idea as we move into the fall and winter, which are likely to be worse.”

August 4: Here’s What School Covid Policies Should Look Like This Year (New York Times)

Given the protective effect of vaccines, prior COVID infections, and therapeutics—as well as kids’ generally low risk from COVID—schools should stay open next year, according to this opinion piece by Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. He recommended that ventilation and filtration should be key focuses, that testing should be used only for diagnosis, that quarantining should end, and that masking should be reserved as a strategy to get kids back to school quicker after being sick.

August 4: A slow start to youth COVID vaccination in Massachusetts (WGBH)

In Massachusetts, only 11% of kids under age 5 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In the 5-11 age group, 59% have gotten at least one shot. In both groups, disparities exist, evidence suggests. “Compared to other states, we’re doing well,” said Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences. “But in Massachusetts, for kids 5-11, half of the communities are way behind the other ones.” Communities with higher percentages of children of color have some of the lowest vaccination rates, Geller said. In addition, overall, the number of children getting vaccinated in the 5-11 age group hasn’t improved in months. The rate of vaccinations “stopped like a car stuck in quicksand,” he said. “And we need new strategies.”

August 4: Updated Covid-19 boosters are expected in September. Will it be too late? (CNN)

Experts say that COVID boosters expected in the fall, targeting the currently circulating BA.5 variant, should further protect people from hospitalization and death, even if new variants crop up. “For me, the most important thing we can measure right now is the breadth of immunity and not try to guess which strain is going to be there,” said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee.

August 4: Covid has settled into a persistent pattern — and remains damaging. It may not change anytime soon (STAT)

Some experts are forecasting 100,000 annual COVID deaths for the next several years—roughly 275 deaths each day. “It’s hard for me to see, barring any massive change in the way we’re treating the virus right now or trying to manage it, that anything inherent to the virus is really going to change much,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “We’re going to continue to see the emergence of variants, we’re going to continue to see spread outside the winter months, we’re probably going to see more spread in winter months in temperate regions—basically any time people are crowding indoors.”

August 2: Haven’t Had COVID Yet? Wanna Bet? (WebMD)

Mounting evidence suggests that millions of Americans have gotten COVID without knowing it because they had no symptoms or mild cases. Some people have avoided it altogether, perhaps because of genetic or immune system traits. Both types of cases are important to public health, according to experts. “It’s definitely true that some people have had COVID and don’t realize it,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It is potentially good news if there’s more immunity in the population than we realize.” He added that knowing a person’s medical history and genetics “may be able to help identify people who are at especially high risk from infection. That knowledge could help those people better shield themselves from infection and get quicker access to treatment and vaccines, if necessary.”

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