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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:
July 30: Long COVID may now be less common than previously thought (CBC)
Based on early data from the pandemic, estimated rates of long COVID ranged from 10% to 40% or even higher, but newer research suggests rates are likely significantly lower than that, in part because of immunity from both vaccination and prior infections. Varying definitions of exactly what constitutes long COVID have also muddied the estimates. “Long COVID is real. There are a lot of people suffering from it,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “But you don’t serve those people by pretending that 40 per cent of the population is in that boat.”
July 29: What poo tells us: wastewater surveillance comes of age amid covid, monkeypox, and polio (BMJ)
Wastewater surveillance has been providing early detection of circulating diseases before clinical cases are confirmed, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that wastewater surveillance is a valuable tool in the disease surveillance toolbox. “It would be foolish to rely on it alone—but with other things as well it’s phenomenally useful,” he said.
July 27: Can You Use a Rapid At-Home COVID Test for BA.5? (Verywell Health)
Experts say that rapid COVID tests can pick up Omicron variants but that people may need to take multiple tests, because sometimes, early on in infection, the amount of virus in the body may not yet be high enough for the tests to detect it. Phyllis Kanki, Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences, noted that at-home rapid tests are very good at detecting the virus during the highest peak of virus replication—usually when a person is showing symptoms.
July 26: How long is COVID infectious? What scientists know so far (Nature)
A number of studies have shown that many people with COVID-19 remain infectious well into the second week after they first experience symptoms. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that 10 days is a useful rule of thumb for when people should no longer be contagious. But he added that a small number of people could be contagious for longer. He cited the rebound phenomenon among some people who’ve taken the antiviral drug Paxlovid, “where people will see that their symptoms seem to resolve and they may even test negative on a rapid test, but then a few days later symptoms and the virus come back.”
July 25: How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected healthcare around the world (GAVI)
This article describes a study by Catherine Arsenault, research scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population, and colleagues showing COVID’s damaging effect on health care globally, including declines in screenings for cancer, TB, HIV, and other diseases, as well as disruptions in maternal health services, care for chronic conditions, and vaccinations.
July 25: Could Genetics Be the Key to Never Getting the Coronavirus? (The Atlantic)
Dyann Wirth, Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, quoted.
July 22: Biden vs. Trump: What a Difference Two Years Make for Treating COVID (Scientific American)
The difference in the course of disease and treatment for COVID between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is stark, showing the incredible benefit of vaccines, according to experts. “In general, people in Biden’s and Trump’s age group are now doing so much better than they were as a result of vaccinations,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He noted that doses matter—four shots are better than three, and three better than two—and that antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid are also making a big difference.
July 21: America Was in an Early-Death Crisis Long Before COVID (The Atlantic)
For decades, the U.S. has lagged behind its peers in terms of life expectancy and years of healthy life, and the pandemic exacerbated those problems, according to experts. Even before the pandemic’s staggering death toll, America had “very successfully normalized to an extremely high level of death on the scale of what we experienced in the pandemic,” according to Justin Feldman, research associate at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. He added that when COVID drove those levels even higher, it proved that America would “accept even more deaths compared to our already poor historical norms.”
July 20: How Long Can You Test Positive for COVID? BA.5 Making Some Last Longer, Top Doc Says (NBC Chicago)
The BA.5 variant appears to make some people continue to test positive for COVID for 10 days or longer. Some experts, like Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, think it’s OK to gradually leave isolation even if you’re still testing positive using a rapid test—especially if you’re fully vaccinated, your symptoms have resolved, and you continue to mask. “You might be able to begin slowly sort of reintegrating while still being mindful of your contact,” he said.
July 20: Predictions of the death of the handshake were premature (CBC)
At the beginning of the pandemic, shaking hands was seen as a source of potential disease spread. But evidence now shows that most coronavirus infections occur through airborne spread, said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “I would say that a handshake is a pretty low-risk thing you can do with respect to COVID,” he said.
July 20: A vax-only approach leaves the most vulnerable behind (Source New Mexico)
Justin Feldman, research associate at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, said that the common refrain that we are in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” does not present a full picture. Although vaccines work really well, it’s a problem that the U.S. designed most of its policies around the idea that vaccines would offer a near-perfect level of protection. “What’s happened is that omicron moderately weakened the protection of vaccines,” he said. “Boosters would help, but the U.S. has done a poor job boosting. The combination of omicron, failing to boost most of the population, and failing to implement other public health measures like mask mandates has led to a situation where tens of thousands of vaccinated people have needlessly died of COVID.”
July 19: Gawande warns USAID COVID response quickly running out of money (The Hill)
Atul Gawande, who leads global health development at USAID and is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard Chan School, is urging Congress to increase financing for USAID’s global coronavirus response. Noting that some parts of the world are still struggling with high COVID-19 death rates, he said, “We’ve gotten through three of the four quarters in this football game, and we can’t give up the game now on COVID. We still have surges that will come.”
July 19: Schools race to improve indoor air quality as coronavirus cases climb (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, quoted.
July 18: False negative rapid Covid tests create confusion for people with obvious symptoms (CBS News)
Certain COVID strains are harder to detect using rapid tests, according to PhD candidate Sydney Stanley. Experts advise people with symptoms to isolate until they get at least three negative rapid tests over the course of several days.
July 14: How Often Is Long Covid Happening? The Answer Isn’t So Easy to Find (Gizmodo)
“Nobody ought to be surprised that covid can have these [long-term] effects, because we know about the consequences of acute viral illness from a lot of other things,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Long flu is a thing; long Epstein-Barr virus is a thing. The difficulty is in measuring it.”
July 13: Worried about BA.5? Epidemiologists share what they’re doing to stay safe this summer (Today.com)
To protect themselves and their families from the highly infectious BA.5 variant of COVID-19, experts—including Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases—are taking steps such as wearing masks at work and during travel, prioritizing outdoor time for kids, opting to eat outdoors at restaurants, and testing and staying home if they’re not feeling well.
July 13: BA.5 and Our Disappearing Immunity (In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt)
On this podcast, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed the coronavirus variant BA.5, currently causing a surge of COVID-19 cases. He talked about the effectiveness of vaccines and our immune systems against the variant, whether it causes more severe infections than other Omicron offshoots, and how to get safely through the summer and fall.
July 13: BA.5 and the pandemic are still a public health emergency (BBC, at 31:25)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed how worried we should be about BA.5 and how governments and individuals should respond. He noted that vaccines remain the most important tool to fight the virus, and that mask mandates—for instance, on public transportation—would make sense during times of high transmission. He added that improving ventilation in indoor spaces “would be one of the single best things that we could do in order to make future tussles with viruses like this easier.”
July 13: Covid Mortality Numbers Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean (The New Republic)
Although COVID deaths among white people in the U.S. have increased over time more than in any other group, people of color are still dying at higher rates as compared to whites, according to experts. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, noted that politicization around COVID has made white Americans one of the least vaccinated groups. With trust in the government and official sources at historic lows, he said that family and friends of unvaccinated people may be the best bet for convincing them to get the shots.
July 12: Covid herd immunity hasn’t panned out: Why we are seeing surges when most Americans have been vaccinated or infected (The Grid)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that herd immunity for COVID was probably never a realistic end goal. “The development of a sufficient amount of immunity in the population such that we don’t have outbreaks that are devastating to healthcare is a more accurate description of where we are now in some places and where we’re going,” Hanage said. He added that each encounter with COVID, both on an individual and population level, is likely to become less severe on average, although the consequences of repeated exposure for long COVID is unclear.
July 7: How Are We Possibly Still Disinfecting Things? (The Atlantic)
Although it’s now well understood that coronavirus spreads primarily through the air, so-called “hygiene theater” such as wiping down surfaces—which has been shown to make little difference in curbing the spread of COVID—remains prevalent. It may be that some people still don’t understand how the virus spreads, said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “I don’t blame the public at all,” he said. “The science has changed every day for two years.”
July 6: With ultraviolet protection, one Boston cabaret may be safer from COVID-19 than almost anywhere (WGBH)
Ultraviolent lights in the Napoleon Room at Boston’s Club Café are helping keep clubgoers safe from the coronavirus, according to Ed Nardell, professor in the departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases, who arranged for the donation and installation of the devices. Nardell, who’s a regular at the club’s open mic nights, explained that air in the room passes through “cones” of energy from the lights and becomes almost completely disinfected.
See stories from:
January and February 2020