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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 from September 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
Some experts predict that the current surge of omicron infections could peak by mid-January in the U.S. “Omicron will likely be quick. It won’t be easy, but it will be quick. Come the early spring, a lot of people will have experienced covid,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
December 28: I helped develop COVID-19 vaccine, let’s reach unvaccinated by listening not shaming (USA Today)
Opinion piece by Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases
December 28: Will Shortened Isolation Periods Spread the Virus? (New York Times)
Some experts think that, without a requirement for rapid testing, new U.S. guidelines that shorten isolation periods for Americans infected with the coronavirus could mean that many infected people could leave isolation while still contagious. “To me, this feels honestly more about economics than about the science,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “I suspect what it will do is result in at least some people emerging from isolation more quickly, and so there’ll be more opportunities for transmission and that of course will accelerate the spread of COVID-19.”
December 28: As omicron outpaces demand for rapid tests, Biden admin. working out purchase of millions (Spectrum News)
The Biden administration is finalizing a plan to ship millions of rapid COVID-19 tests to Americans in January, but widespread delivery of the free tests is still weeks away. “It’s a beginning,” 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. “They [the tests] need to be everywhere. Omnipresent.” He added, “This is yet another area where we have to learn. It just wasn’t a priority to subsidize these tests in the same way vaccines have been subsidized all along.”
December 28: Fauci says U.S. should ‘seriously’ consider vaccine mandate for domestic flights as cancellation issues persist (Spectrum News)
The Omicron variant surge has been sidelining airline staff, leading to thousands of flight cancellations during the busy holiday season. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said, “Omicron [is] rewriting the rules. That’s means … that it’s changing the flow of traffic through our aviation system.”
December 27: As Omicron Surges, Officials Shorten Isolation Times for Many Americans (New York Times)
On December 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened by half—from 10 days to five—the recommended isolation period for many Americans infected with the coronavirus. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was quoted about the move.
December 27: Two Boston researchers propose ‘circuit breakers’ to stem spread of COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, called for the U.S. to use “circuit breakers”—temporary local restrictions on high-risk activities such as indoor dining, performances, or non-essential work outside of homes—to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases amid the surge of the Omicron variant.
December 26: What to expect from America’s third year of COVID (Axios)
According to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, 2022 “will start with an almighty surge of Omicron. This will play out differently in various places, but it is hard to imagine anywhere will be spared.” He added, “By the time spring rolls around, a lot of people are going to have had the experience of having had COVID.”
December 26: It took a major effort to deliver the COVID vaccine. These people in NC did their part (The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC)
This article describes the efforts of Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, who conducted research at the National Institutes of Health that enabled the creation of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.
December 25: The unvaccinated in the U.S. remain defiant. (New York Times)
Roughly 15% of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the unvaccinated are “much more likely to be in a hospital, and they’re much more likely to be taking up a bed that might be wanted” this winter.
December 24: Harvard Researcher Talks Global Health Resilience Amid COVID-19 (Forbes)
December 24: C.D.C. Faces Pressure to Change Isolation Guidelines for Sick Workers (New York Times)
On December 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced, in some circumstances, the number of days it recommends that health care workers who test positive for the coronavirus isolate themselves. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said the move was good, “but it’s shortsighted not to apply this more broadly: schools, colleges, sports, Broadway, restaurants, airlines,” he said.
December 24: White House rejected Oct. plan to boost holiday COVID testing: report (New York Post)
A group of COVID-19 testing experts from Harvard Chan School, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the COVID Collaborative urged the Biden administration to manufacture roughly 732 million tests per month to avoid a holiday COVID testing crunch, but the White House passed on the proposal, according to media reports. Stephen Phillips, vice president of science and strategy for the COVID Collaborative, said the administration was “playing small ball.”
December 23: 5 things to know about COVID-19 tests in the age of Omicron (National Geographic)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, offered advice about using COVID-19 tests amid the Omicron surge, such as how long to wait to test after an exposure, which test to use, and what to do if you test either negative or positive.
December 22: Omicron Infections Seem to Be Milder, Three Research Teams Report (New York Times)
Early research suggests that cases of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant are typically less severe than those caused by Delta and other previous variants. But William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the variant’s high transmissibility means that unvaccinated people are at especially high risk. “If you are unvaccinated and you have never been infected, it is a little less severe than Delta,” Hanage said. “But that’s a bit like saying you’re being hit over the head with one hammer instead of two hammers. And the hammers are more likely to hit you now.”
December 21: Omicron is spreading at an alarming rate, and there’s no solid evidence it’s ‘milder’ (The Guardian)
In this opinion piece, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, argued that it is too soon to say whether or not the omicron variant of the coronavirus causes less severe infections than other variants.
December 21: Biden tries to teach to the Covid test (Politico)
Although the Biden administration is promising to make 500 million at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available to the public, the nation still needs to do more to help Americans who test positive safely quarantine with paid time off and a place to go, according to Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs.
December 21: The best-case scenario with omicron will still be bad (Washington Post)
Although early research suggests that omicron is less severe than previous COVID-19 variants, “we underestimate this virus at our peril,” wrote William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, in this opinion piece. That’s because omicron is highly transmissible and could result in huge numbers of people becoming infected, which could cause enormous societal disruption, increase the risk of long COVID, and further overwhelm hospitals. Hanage wrote that it is “past time” to deliver more vaccines to developing nations, increase access to rapid tests, demand better public health communication from officials, and develop strategies to live in a world where the coronavirus is continually circulating.
December 20: NFL’s covid-testing plan could fuel spread, experts say, but it’s ‘where society is going’ (Washington Post)
Under the NFL’s new policy for testing for COVID-19, the league will only test those who show signs of illness. Experts say that could mean that more players and staff will be unknowingly infected. Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs, said that the plan places “a big bet on a number of assumptions,” particularly that early data is accurate and that Omicron causes less severe disease than other coronavirus variants.
December 20: What the White House is doing as omicron begins to take off in the U.S. (WBUR)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called for the Biden administration to do more and faster as Omicron fuels a surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. He criticized the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, for stigmatizing people who haven’t been vaccinated during a press briefing. “You don’t actually get people vaccinated by heckling them,” he said. “It requires a shot in the arm, not a wagging finger in the face.” He also recommended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begin daily briefings. “The situation is changing day to day at just such a remarkable rate that we really need somebody to just … steady the ship,” he said.
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote a memorandum to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asking her to give states and municipalities guidance on how to implement short-term restrictions on high-risk activities amid the current COVID-19 surge, in order to prevent hospitals and health systems from becoming overwhelmed.
December 20: Do Not Close the Schools Again (New York Times)
In this opinion piece, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, urged that schools be kept open even while the Omicron variant is causing a surge in COVID-19 cases. “The argument for keeping schools open rests on two constants ever since the Covid pandemic began: The risk of severe outcomes to kids from coronavirus infection is low, and the risks to kids from being out of school are high,” Allen wrote. He recommended that parents get their eligible kids vaccinated, that vaccination be mandated for all adults in schools and day cares, that schools improve ventilation and filtration, and that we stop quarantining entire classrooms when there’s a positive case and instead use so-called “test-to-stay” policies.
December 19: ‘Tuesday is too late’: Health experts urge Biden to move faster amid Omicron threat (Boston Globe)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was among health experts calling for President Biden to take stronger measures to protect the nation against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Hanage criticized some of Biden’s past steps to address the pandemic, such as a plan requiring people to pay upfront for rapid tests and later seek reimbursement from health insurers. He also called for stronger steps to preserve capacity in hospitals and health care systems, such as requiring indoor masking. “It’s a community effort that we need to get going here,” Hanage said.
December 19: ‘Anxiety is high.’ As employers keep delaying return to office, will we ever go back? (Boston Globe)
Growing numbers of businesses and organizations are delaying plans to return to in-person work because of a surge of COVID-19 cases. But Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that science indicates that people can return to work safely, if companies require employees to be vaccinated and ensure that their buildings have proper air filtration systems. Added precautions include measures such as contract tracing, masking, testing, or social distancing, he said.
December 17: Why Is Omicron So Contagious? (Scientific American)
To model Omicron’s global trajectory, scientists are studying both its transmissibility and its ability to evade human immune systems. Untangling how much of each of these two factors contribute to the variant’s spread is “what will allow us to predict how many people Omicron might infect and how fast,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, and science director of the CDC’s new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics.
Early data suggests that Omicron may cause milder disease in most people than previous versions of SARS-CoV-2. But its high level of transmissibility could mean that it has the potential to infect a large percentage of the population all at once, and such a surge in infections could overwhelm the health care system, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
December 17: What will life with COVID-19 be like in 2022? (TODAY)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was among 10 experts commenting on what to expect from COVID-19 in 2022. He said he expects to see “exponential growth of omicron cases” in the U.S. But he added that increasing the use of rapid testing could help us manage the ongoing pandemic. “If we had easy, cheap and abundant access to rapid tests, those would become part of (our approach to keeping safe around) the holidays or other kinds of events, or to keep kids in schools,” he said.
December 16: Researchers say expect more COVID-19 variants in the new year (WHIO)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, was quoted.
Sikhulile Moyo, research associate in immunology and infectious diseases, whose team at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership helped alert the world to the omicron variant, said he was disappointed about travel bans against southern Africa in the wake of the discovery. “How do you reward the countries that alert you of a potential dangerous pathogen with travel bans?” he asked. “My country was put on a red list, and I didn’t feel good about that.” He added, “We know the repercussions. Flights were canceled, goods were not coming into the country, a lot of businesses lost millions. And our vaccine supply was being threatened because of delays on the way. Quite a trail of destruction.” Moyo urged more equitable distribution of vaccines around the world, which he said would help the pandemic end sooner everywhere.
December 16: Boston’s TD Garden to increase mask enforcement, but one expert says COVID surge could require new restrictions (Boston Globe)
Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs, said that the highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant will make it hard to keep Boston’s biggest indoor arena, TD Garden, open to full capacity this winter. “If our hospitals are pressed even more and if there are double the number of cases per day in six weeks, I think it will be untenable to keep a fully packed arena with people munching on popcorn,” he said.
December 15: Opinion: Our playbook to fight COVID-19 is outdated. Here are 10 updates for 2022 (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, offered 10 tips on how to fight COVID-19, including getting a booster shot, doing away with mask mandates and distancing requirements where all people are vaccinated, improving ventilation and filtration indoors, and making rapid antigen tests the gold standard for testing instead of PCR tests.
December 15: Don’t Be Surprised When You Get Omicron (The Atlantic)
Vaccinated people who get a breakthrough COVID-19 infection from the Omicron variant should take all the same steps recommended for any form of the virus, according to experts. “All of the same things stand, whether it’s Delta, Omicron, or any other Greek letter or non-Greek letter of SARS-CoV-2,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Once you know you’re infected, hang tight, limit your encounters with other people, and just take care of yourself.”
December 15: Let’s Not Be Fatalistic About Omicron. We Know How to Fight It (TIME)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, co-authored this opinion piece calling for worldwide strategies to enhance vaccine equity and access and for scaling up other protective measures in the face of the Omicron variant.
December 15: A Guide to Mixed-Vaccination-Status Holidays (The Atlantic)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, was among experts offering advice on how to be safe during the holidays amid the ongoing pandemic.
December 15: New CDC outbreak forecasting center could do for disease what weather service does for meteorology (WBUR’s “Here and Now”)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, and science director of the CDC’s new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, discussed the aims of the new center.
December 14: U.S. Reports 800,000+ Coronavirus Deaths (CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront”)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 “is going to be hitting us pretty hard.” Even though early data suggests that many Omicron-caused cases of COVID-19 are mild, many of those cases are in young people who tend to not get as sick as older or immunocompromised people. “A very large wave could still have pretty grave consequences for a healthcare system, which is teetering because we have just spent two years fighting with a pandemic bear and we are still struggling to recover from that,” Hanage 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, was among several experts calling for a universal mask mandate in Massachusetts to help quell the current COVID-19 surge. Not mandating masks “leaves us continuing to fight this war with one arm tied behind our backs,” Koh said. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, also backed a mask mandate. “Past time,” he said. “Way past time.”
December 13: The Miracle Workers (TIME Magazine)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, was named one of four “heroes of the year” for 2021 by TIME magazine for helping develop the mRNA-based vaccine platform that enabled the creation of innovative and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines.
December 12: Women lost decades of progress after COVID — Roe’s repeal would erase more (The Hill)
In this opinion piece, Dean Michelle Williams argued that rolling back abortion rights—currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court—would threaten the health, security and dignity of women in the U.S., at a time when women and girls are facing unprecedented levels of violence and inequities. Wrote Williams, “Women must have access to the health care they need — free of coercion, discrimination and violence — if they are to live to their fullest potential. I’ve said before and will repeat as long as it needs to be said: Women must control their bodies to control their health, their economic prospects and their life trajectory.”
False claims about COVID-19 could include vague language, emotional appeals, and facts that seem too good to be true, according to Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow.
December 10: Coping With COVID in the Holidays (Living on Earth)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, discussed best practices for keeping safe during the holidays at work, in school, and during travel.
December 10: Antiviral treatments should work well against Omicron, experts say (Medical Xpress)
December 9: Scientists race to define Omicron threat, worried about ‘surge upon a surge’ (Harvard Gazette )
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that he expects the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus to overtake the Delta variant, currently the dominant strain, in the U.S. in six to eight weeks.
December 8: How a COVID Home Test Works and When to Use One (AARP)
December 8: COVID Booster Cuts Death Rate by 90%, Israeli Study Finds (HealthDay)
Booster doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine appear to offer strong protection against the Delta variant, according to recent data. Boosters may also protect against Omicron, but it’s not clear how much. Even so, Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that you shouldn’t delay getting a booster shot in the hopes that drug companies will develop a new vaccine aimed at Omicron. “I would highly recommend getting one now, because by the time we formulate an Omicron-specific vaccine and get it approved and get the supply ramped up enough to administer to everyone who wants it, Omicron will have already done what it’s going to do,” he said.
December 7: 3 things vaccinated individuals can do to reduce their COVID-19 risk this holiday season (Boston.com)
To protect from the coronavirus, Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, recommends getting a COVID-19 booster, ventilating indoor spaces, and getting tested with a rapid test before gatherings and before and after travel.
December 7: Harvard researcher bracing for big variant surge (Boston25)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, is expecting a “surge within a surge” this winter as the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads along with the already-surging Delta variant.
December 6: Former NIH Covid Vaccine Leader to Fight New Threats at Harvard (Bloomberg Law)
Kizzmekia Corbett, who led the NIH team that designed the COVID-19 vaccine and is now an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, discussed what the public should expect nearly two years into the pandemic, what she’s working on now, and why she took on her own public outreach efforts to get people vaccinated.
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to distribute rapid COVID-19 tests in neighborhoods with high rates of COVID-19 “is exactly the sort of thing we need.” This article also noted that Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, has been named to a new 17-member board to advise the city of Boston on its COVID-19 response.
December 6: Scholz Names Harvard Medical Expert to Oversee German Pandemic Policy (Bloomberg Quint)
Karl Lauterbach, adjunct professor of health policy and management, has been named Germany’s health minister under incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz.
December 6: Infectious disease expert says to expects another COVID surge in Mass. as holidays approach (WBUR’s Morning Edition)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said he expects a spike in COVID-19 cases this winter. “Like other coronaviruses and other respiratory viruses, SARS-COV-2 is a seasonal respiratory virus, and so it spreads a lot more easily in the wintertime, especially up here in the north,” he said. He recommended that, when in indoor spaces, people should wear masks and keep gatherings small.
December 4: Omicron’s speed of change worries director of Harvard lab in Botswana (Boston Globe)
Sikhulile Moyo, director at the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory and a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, the scientist who first detected the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, discussed details about the variant at a recent press briefing.
December 3: Making COVID-19 vaccinations a family affair can protect against omicron: Analysis (ABC News)
“No matter how transmissible or evasive the omicron variant turns out to be, our best defense right now is a fully vaccinated public,” according to this analysis co-authored by Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member and director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs. The authors urged increasing vaccine access for kids and adolescents, streamlining the appointment process, promoting vaccination, and lessening barriers to vaccination. “Now is the time for a renewed focus on vaccinating all generations,” they wrote.
December 3: Scientists say sequencing is vital to staying ahead of Omicron variant (Fox23)
Increasing sequencing efforts globally will be crucial in tracking the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus as well as other future variants, according to Sikhulile Moyo, director at the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory and a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School. Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, was also quoted.
December 2: Grappling with an uncertain reality as omicron and covid’s third year approach (Washington Post)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, offered advice on how to manage uncertainty and fear as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. “Adjusting our expectations to account for unpredictability, uncontrollability and the fact that our lives may be disrupted on and off, and building that into our expectations, would be good for our mental health,” she said.
December 2: New Harvard study declares winner between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (The Hill)
The Moderna vaccine is slightly better than the Pfizer vaccine, according to a recent Harvard Chan School study.
December 2: Harvard study: Vaccinated people with COVID-19 may be infectious for a shorter period of time (Boston.com)
Breakthrough cases are infectious for two days less than cases in unvaccinated individuals, according to a new Harvard Chan School study. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and co-author of the study, was quoted.
December 1: Opinion: For a healthier world, empower nurses (Devex)
Dean Michelle Williams and Stephanie Ferguson, visiting fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management and director of the Harvard Global Nursing Leadership Program, argued that it’s essential to rebuild the nursing workforce in order to safeguard health and economies. They recommended increasing educational opportunities and leadership possibilities for nurses and boosting the size of the nursing workforce.
December 1: Omicron ‘astonishing to behold,’ says Hanage (Harvard Gazette)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, shared early impressions of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which spread rapidly in South Africa in November and was later detected in several other nations. “This has the capacity to be quite serious, but that doesn’t mean the sky is falling,” he said. “We are still in the process of learning a lot more—and we are not going to know it overnight.”
December 1: What J&J Can Still Teach Us (The Atlantic)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, who helped developed Moderna’s vaccine, quoted.
December 1: Pandemic reveals depth of children’s mental health needs (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that “the rates of mental health problems among kids, particularly depression and anxiety, have doubled during the pandemic.” Behavior problems among children and substance abuse among teens are also on the rise, she noted.