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:
February 28: Our America: Health Equity & COVID (6abc Action News, Philadelphia)
Dean Michelle Williams was among panelists discussing inequalities in health care and how to support the mental health and wellness of health care workers.
February 28: Taking Vitamins and Supplements Won’t Help Reduce Your Risk of Dying From COVID-19 (Health Magazine)
Although a recent study suggests that vitamins don’t improve COVID-19 health outcomes, it’s still important to ensure that you’re not deficient in any nutrients, according to Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition. “In some ways the body and its immune system is like a car,” he said. “You need all the parts running and in good repair, and if you take out one critical part, it doesn’t work very well.”
February 28: NYC’s COVID battle: A new mayor and a—slightly—new approach (MarketWatch)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, was among experts commenting on the differences between former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the new mayor, Eric Adams, in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “New York City under both administrations has been proactive in their public health mitigation efforts,” she said.
February 28: New Covid vaccinations drop in US as cases and hospitalizations decline (The Guardian)
Experts caution that the coronavirus remains a threat to people are unvaccinated. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that people who have not gotten a booster or people whose immunity from an infection has waned could “become more susceptible to severe disease. I do think it’s of the utmost importance that we keep an eye on the virus over the summer and don’t assume that everything that’s going to happen is in the rearview mirror.”
February 27: At long last, employers are rolling out return-to-office plans (again) (Boston Globe)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that businesses should keep safety measures in mind as more employees begin to return to in-person work, noting that they may be wary of sitting too close to coworkers or commuting, and that immunocompromised workers and those with young, unvaccinated children may be particularly worried.
February 25: Indoor masking no longer necessary across most of the U.S, CDC says (Today.com)
The CDC has said that most Americans are now safe going without a mask in indoor settings, amid a significant drop in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. But William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, cautioned that the pandemic is not over. “The virus is still going to be here,” he said. “It is still going to pose a risk to people, and it’s probably going to get worse again in the fall and winter.”
February 25: Why the US may not be able to drop COVID restrictions like the UK (ABC News)
Some experts say that a major lifting of COVID restrictions, as the U.K. has done, may not be right for the U.S. because of its lower vaccination rate and less robust surveillance system. “There are lots of places in the U.S. that are not able to do that [lift restrictions] without risking much more severe consequences,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
February 25: Boost to the Future (Politico)
Barry Bloom, the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, discussed a possible future treatment for COVID-19—“nanobodies,” which are tiny antibodies that “have the ability to get into all kinds of places,” such as the coronavirus spike. He also noted that even if the coronavirus mutates further so that it evades vaccines, updated vaccines can be developed quickly.
February 25: The global COVID-19 treatment divide (The Lancet)
Experts are warning of huge global inequities in access to new treatments for COVID-19, such as Pfizer’s anti-viral drug Paxlovid. Don Goldmann, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, noted that “rich countries have little incentive to help poor countries get access to this drug,” he said.
February 24: ‘Fauci lied:’ How misunderstanding about science and public health has helped fuel false claims (PolitiFact)
Social media claims that scientists and health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci are lying represent a misunderstanding about how science works, according to experts. They noted that scientific findings change over time and that public health guidance changes in response. David Jones, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, was quoted.
February 24: The Hard Lessons We Learned — and Didn’t — From Two Years in Pandemic School (Washington Post)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on some of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, he noted that COVID-19 may have been declared a pandemic earlier had it not been for swine flu, which fizzled out after dire warnings about its danger. He also commented on one argument, early on in the pandemic, that we should allow the coronavirus to sweep through the population while attempting to protect vulnerable people. “Tantamount to homicide,” Hanage said of that strategy.
February 23: Experts: New COVID-19 subvariant more contagious, perhaps harder to treat (UPI)
With studies showing that a subvariant of Omicron (BA.2) is more contagious than the original strain (BA.1), “we expect BA.2 to become the majority” of variants in the U.S., said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. But experts think that vaccination and prior infection could protect many people from severe disease consequences. What is known about BA.2 is worrying, Hanage said, “but not enough for a big shift in public concern in my view.”
February 21: Our public health system needs an overhaul — Congress can start here (The Hill)
Better cooperation and coordination among federal agencies, particularly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, are needed to remedy the “mixed messages and unforced errors” that have characterized the U.S. response to COVID-19 over the past two years, wrote Dean Michelle Williams and Richard Tofel, former president of ProPublica and a distinguished visiting fellow at Harvard Chan School, in this opinion piece.
February 21: Disease trackers wary of fast-moving offshoot of omicron (Washington Times)
Scientists are keeping an eye on a variant of Omicron called BA.2 that seems to spread about 30% faster than the initial Omicron variant. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he thinks the new variant unlikely to cause another spike in the U.S., but “it does mean we can expect more infections over the next few months than would have been the case.”
February 19: Should You Still Wear a Mask? (New York Times)
Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs, was among experts discussing where and when it’s safe to take a mask off. Bitton noted that it’s generally safe to unmask outside, unless you’re in a very crowded space. “If you’re really shoulder-to-shoulder with people, that might be a case of outdoor mask wearing, at least for now,” he said.
February 18: Coronavirus FAQ: Is it a good idea to get COVID before I’m over 60 and at higher risk? (NPR)
“It’s lunacy,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, when asked if it makes sense for someone in their 50s to try to get COVID before they turn 60 and are in a higher-risk category. “Every time you get sick with COVID there is a small but not zero risk of bad things happening,” she said.
February 18: Do Covid treatments work against omicron subvariant? Scientists keep close watch (NBC News)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted.
February 18: Is it safe to travel if you’re vaccinated, boosted and recovered? Medical experts are divided (CNBC)
Experts disagree about how safe it is to travel at this point in the pandemic, even if you’ve been vaccinated, boosted, and recovered from COVID. Stefanos Kales, a professor in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Environmental Health, said he thinks people in the so-called “super immunity” category should feel secure to travel. “Unless you really have some serious condition or some serious concern, and you want to travel, absolutely you should travel,” he said.
February 18: Why Mass. is rolling back its mask and vaccine mandates (WBUR)
Communities across Massachusetts are rolling back COVID-19 restrictions such as masking. Leonard Marcus, founder and director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, said he’s worried that some places are lifting protections too soon. “I’m just concerned that there are places that are getting a little bit ahead of the curve, and could inadvertently create a situation where those cases go back up,” he said.
February 18: As Omicron Surged, Covid-19 Spread Through Patients in Hospitals (Wall Street Journal)
The proportion of patients with hospital-acquired COVID-19 as a share of non-coronavirus patients has risen and fallen closely in line with COVID-19 cases in their surrounding communities, said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “The hospital itself is not an island,” he said, noting that, when there’s a surge in the community, it’s hard to keep the infection from spreading in hospitals when people come in with undetected infections.
February 18: Race is a risk factor for COVID, but Florida’s plan for a scarce therapy is color blind (Miami Herald )
Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, discussed a study he led that found that monoclonal antibodies, an effective treatment for COVID-19, are mostly going to those who need them less—patients with the fewest chronic conditions—and that there also racial and ethnic disparities in their use.
February 17: Wastewater data indicates Boston area is in ‘back end of the omicron surge’ (WGBH)
In a Q&A, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, spoke about rapidly declining coronavirus levels in Boston-area wastewater data. “All signs are looking good,” he said.
February 17: Here’s how to decide if you’re safe to go out when you’re recovering from omicron (NPR)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that a PCR test is not the right choice to figure out if you’re no longer infectious after having COVID-19, because the test is highly sensitive. “There are some people who have little blips of being PCR positive for weeks, or in some cases even months, after an infection”—even though they’re no longer contagious, he said.
February 16: New page in pandemic playbook (Harvard Gazette)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and James Hammitt, professor of economics and decision sciences, discussed how to assess risk during a changing pandemic.
February 16: ‘Incredibly encouraging’: Coronavirus level in Eastern Mass. waste water is down 98 percent from peak (Boston Globe)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, called plummeting levels of coronavirus in sewage in Eastern Massachusetts “incredibly encouraging,” and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said it was “truly heartening.”
February 16: Unions celebrate court ruling blocking COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but Mayor Michelle Wu likely to appeal (Boston Globe)
An appeals court judge ruled against Mayor Michelle Wu’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for the Boston city workforce, arguing, in part, that even vaccinated individuals are able to transmit the virus. But Barry Bloom, the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that “the amount of virus in vaccinated individuals is remarkably less than that of unvaccinated individuals. We’re talking somewhere about two-thirds less likely to transmit infection.” He noted that vaccine mandates help not only vaccinated people, but vulnerable people such as young children, immunocompromised people, and others who have not been able to get the shots.
February 16: CDC Says 10% Of COVID Swabs Sent to Genome Lab, Raising Privacy Questions (Newsweek)
After the CDC shared in a tweet that it sends 5% to 10% of swabs used in COVID-19 PCR tests for “genomic sequencing,” some critics raised questions about human DNA privacy. But Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said that scientists aren’t sequencing human DNA—instead, they’re using selected segments or genes to distinguish common COVID variants.
February 15: How this ‘little ole girl’ from North Carolina became a lead Covid-19 vaccine developer (MSNBC)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, who was instrumental in groundbreaking research that led to the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, discussed her efforts to address people’s “vaccine inquisitiveness,” especially in the Black community.
February 14: Protecting the Vulnerable (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, were quoted.
February 14: Do masks protect you from COVID if others aren’t wearing one? What experts are saying (McClatchy News)
Experts advised people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 to continue wearing masks even if others don’t. “Wearing a mask when others are not does provide some level of personal protection,” said Leonard Marcus, founding director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. However, “that protection is less than when everyone is wearing a mask.”
February 14: Want to Clear the Air in the Office? There’s New Filtration Tech to Help You (Inc.)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, quoted.
February 11: Endemic vs. pandemic: What it means to ‘learn to live with’ COVID-19 (National Post)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he has problems with the “new normal” and “we need to learn to live with it” narrative regarding COVID-19. He noted, “At the basis of this is the notion that a certain amount of illness and death is acceptable, and that action is only merited to prevent those limits being exceeded,” he said.
February 11: ‘The harder they push, the harder I’ve dug in’: The threat of getting fired still hasn’t persuaded some to get COVID-19 vaccine. How are resisters affecting the pandemic? (Chicago Tribune)
Roughly 15% of U.S. adults have told pollsters that they will “definitely not” get a COVID-19 vaccine. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, commented on how that resistance will impact the pandemic. “Until we see the spread of COVID-19 through that population so they get some degree of immunity from infection—though it’s better with vaccination—we’re going to see relatively higher numbers of (unvaccinated) people requiring hospitalization and all the impact that comes from that,” he said.
February 10: There’s Good Reason to Be Optimistic About Omicron (TIME)
The recent Omicron surge—which has not resulted in as high a rate of hospitalizations and deaths as the Delta variant—underscores how well COVID-19 vaccines are working, according to this Ideas article by William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
February 10: How is America Still This Bad at Talking About the Pandemic (The Atlantic)
In this article, Richard Tofel, former president of ProPublica and a distinguished visiting fellow at Harvard Chan School, offered four lessons for transmitting clear, practical information during the changing circumstances of the pandemic: Public officials should be more candid about uncertainty; political leaders and scientists must do a better job considering each other’s perspectives; scientists should use language that the average listener can understand; and leaders should make sure to focus on heroes, such as those who invented and produced COVID-19 vaccines.
February 10: Mask mandates are lifting. Experts say here’s when to consider keeping yours on. (USA Today)
Experts say that deciding whether or not to wear a face mask in a particular situation depends on how much someone wants to avoid infection with COVID-19, the rate of COVID-19 where they live, and who else is around them. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that while one-way masking “isn’t perfect,” it’s pretty good, and that he personally will keep wearing a mask to places like the grocery store until COVID-19 infection rates come down to their lows of last spring. “I see little downside to mask use in many contexts,” he said.
February 9: Pandemic endgame: As Illinois aims to ease masking restrictions, experts weigh in on the right time to return to normalcy (Chicago Tribune)
Experts are divided on the best timeline to end COVID-19 restrictions such as masking. Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a professor in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Environmental Health, believes the time is now. “The vast majority of the population has immunity either because of the mass vaccination campaign or natural immunity, particularly after omicron,” he said. Given that it would be impossible to stop all transmission of the virus or eliminate all cases, he said the strategy should be to protect the most vulnerable populations, with testing and early treatment.
February 9: New York’s indoor mask mandate for businesses will be lifted Thursday (CBS Evening News)
As New York and several other states announced the lifting of indoor mask mandates, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, weighed in. “It’s not ‘the pandemic is over’ by any means,” he said. “It’s just that we’re on the back end of a wave. We should take advantage of this time, pull back controls.” But, he added, “We should absolutely continue to monitor the trends.”
February 9: Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage: ‘Pandemics don’t have an official endpoint, with cheers and fireworks’ (El País)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, talked to El País about the dangers of treating COVID-19 as endemic, the importance of booster shots, and why the health crisis isn’t over.
February 8: With Mask Restrictions Set to Lift, a Haze of Uncertainty Lingers (New York Times)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was among experts commenting on the wisdom of lifting mask mandates as the Omicron surge begins to recede. “I think it’s entirely appropriate that we start lifting school mask mandates now,” he said. “We’re in a much better place than we were before, and it’s time to update our strategies to reflect the moment.”
February 8: Will a mask protect me even if no one else is wearing one? (NBC News)
Experts, including William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, say that wearing a mask can protect people from COVID-19 even if other people around them aren’t masking.
February 7: The challenge of personal choice and compliance in a pandemic (WBUR)
Leonard Marcus, founder and director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, was interviewed on the show “Radio Boston” about how Massachusetts communities are grappling with questions about whether or not to end mask mandates, as COVID-19 infections decline.
February 7: How Should We Think About a Return to “Normal”? (Slate)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was interviewed about what it might mean to get back to “normal” as COVID-19 cases decline, how “normal” would be measured, and whether it’s the right time to be talking about it. “We’ve stayed on red alert too long,” he said. “Too many people are saying, ‘I’m done with this.’ Their frustration is understandable. But we can use data actually to inform decision-making.”
February 7: What to know about the study on lockdowns and COVID-19 deaths by economists (PolitiFact)
A non-peer-reviewed paper by three economists found that COVID-19 lockdowns barely reduced deaths, but experts have criticized its findings. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the question of whether lockdowns decrease death isn’t sensible. “The whole premise of it is wrong, because given enough time and no vaccines, if the virus infects enough people, they will die,” he said. “These interventions are designed to try and mitigate that so that they don’t all get sick at the same time, so it’s completely mistaken.”
February 6: Vastly unequal US has world’s highest Covid death toll – it’s no coincidence (The Guardian)
Vast income inequality and lagging vaccinations have led to the U.S. having the highest COVID-19 death rate of any wealthy country. “For a country which has a vaccines-only strategy, we’re not very good at vaccination,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He noted that poorer unvaccinated people face a “double whammy” because they struggle to access vaccines and are also more likely to contract COVID because of their living and working circumstances.
February 4: It’s time to ‘move on’ from the pandemic, says Harvard medical professor (CNBC)
Arguing that, for most people, COVID-19 is not a serious threat, Stefanos Kales, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a professor in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Environmental Health, called for a return to normal life, particularly among the young. He said he favors focusing COVID-19 efforts on people who are vulnerable—older people, those with health problems, and the unvaccinated.
February 4: Study ties environmental conservation to pandemic prevention (E&E News)
Reduced deforestation, better management of wildlife trade and hunting, and better surveillance of zoonotic pathogens before they spill into human populations are all key strategies that could help prevent future pandemics, according to a new report. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard Chan School’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), was lead author and Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, was a co-author.
February 2: The Big Question: What Kind of Immunity Will Omicron Provide? (In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed what we know about the kind of immunity Omicron may provide against future variants, what role layered immunity will play moving forward, and why we shouldn’t count Delta out just yet.
February 2: Is Omicron really ‘milder’? Not exactly. (Harvard Gazette)
The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant’s “milder” outcomes are likely due to more population immunity rather than the virus’ properties, according to a paper by William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, and Roby Bhattacharyya, assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and associate member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
February 2: Opinion: When should the government lift pandemic restrictions? These four metrics can provide the answer. (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, outlined four underutilized data metrics that officials can use to figure out when to impose or lift pandemic restrictions: watch levels of the coronavirus in wastewater; keep an eye on health-care capacity; track how many hospitalizations are actually due to COVID; and incorporate risk into decision-making.
February 2: Ask the Docs: Marking two years since the first COVID case in Boston (WBUR)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, answered listeners’ questions on a call-in radio show.
February 1: Willing but unable to get COVID shot (Harvard Gazette)
Andrew Chan, director of epidemiology at Mass General Cancer Center and a professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School, was senior author of a study that found that, in the U.S., Black people were less likely than white people to receive a COVID-19 shot, partly because of mistrust of the medical system but also because of lack of access.
February 1: Endemicity Is Meaningless (The Atlantic)
A future in which COVID-19 is endemic—circulating at lower levels, but still with us—remains highly uncertain because an endemic disease can be innocuous or severe, according to experts. “This distinction between pandemic and endemic has been put forward as a checkered flag,” when we are “done” with the crisis, but that isn’t the case, according to Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. And William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that if COVID-19 continues to surge in winters to come, on top of the many other types of infections that typically spread during winter, it “would not be a trivial outcome.”
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January and February 2020