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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:
June 30: Report: Trump Era Covid Strategy “Likely Resulted in Many Deaths” (Institute for Public Accuracy)
The Trump administration’s embrace of a herd immunity strategy during the first year of the pandemic likely resulted in many preventable deaths, according to a report from a congressional subcommittee on the coronavirus. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the report “depicts crucial missteps in pandemic management.”
June 30: Still testing positive after day 10? How to decide when to end your COVID isolation (NPR)
Evidence is unclear as to whether people who continue to test positive on rapid COVID antigen tests even after they feel better, and after five or more days, are still infectious, according to experts. James Hay, postdoctoral research fellow, said that while there’s a lot of variation across studies, he thinks the overall finding suggests that “if you’re antigen positive, then you’re quite likely to be infectious.”
June 28: Biden Claims Too Much Credit for Decline in COVID-19 Deaths (FactCheck.org)
Although some Biden administration policies—including promoting vaccination, mask-wearing, and testing—have helped bring down the number of COVID deaths, most of the decline has been due to factors beyond the president’s control, according to experts. “The decline can largely be attributed to the level of immunity in the population,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “Vaccine uptake has been a huge contributing factor to the decline, as those who are vaccinated are far less likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID. Natural immunity has likely played a role as well though the quantification of this is less clear.”
June 27: US grapples with whether to modify COVID vaccine for fall (AP)
Updating COVID boosters “is more likely to be helpful” than simply providing additional doses of the current COVID vaccines, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
June 25: Already Had COVID? Here’s Where You Could Catch it Again (Eat This, Not That)
Indoor gyms, bars, offices, nursing and retirement homes, and crowded indoor events are all likely places where people can get reinfected with COVID, given that new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are circulating. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was quoted.
June 25: COVID-19 in North Korea (The Lancet)
North Korea is likely experiencing a huge COVID-19 outbreak, according to experts, and it’s likely that much of the population is unvaccinated. “Controlling omicron in the absence of vaccination is a ghastly task,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “We can expect a very rapid surge.” He estimated that North Korea could see around 50,000 deaths, and several times that many hospitalizations.
June 24: Does Your A/C Spread COVID? We Asked an Expert (Eat This, Not That)
Being indoors with other people is what propels the spread of COVID-19—not air conditioning, according to Edward Nardell, professor in the departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It is not the air conditioner that is doing anything particularly,” he said. “It is the fact that you are indoors, you are not socially distancing and you are rebreathing the air that people have just exhaled.” Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was also quoted on the importance of ventilation.
June 23: Public-Health Messaging in a Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Experts at a June 21 panel spoke about a range of pandemic-related issues—including a disconnect between the public perception of what occurred over the past two years and what actually occurred. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that headlines highlighting “death tolls” may have made people think that public health measures were ineffective—but that was not the case. “It can feel as if everything is hopeless, that people stayed home and people got all these shots, and still, over a million Americans died,” he said. “Let me be blunt: it could easily be far, far more.”
June 22: Covid Vaccines Slowly Roll Out for Children Under 5 (New York Times)
COVID vaccines are now available for children under age 5, but polling suggests that most parents of younger children are hesitant about getting access to the shots quickly. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that even if uptake of the vaccines is limited, he thinks that most restrictions on young children should be lifted, given their low risk. He recommended that child-care centers and schools protect students and staff by improving ventilation and filtration.
June 21: Ventilation is crucial, but until recently it took a backseat to other covid measures (Washington Post)
Given the fact that COVID-19 spreads though tiny aerosol droplets, improving ventilation in buildings is key to curbing transmission. “We need building engineers to sit alongside the MD’s and the epidemiologists when they do a cluster investigation and say, ‘Let’s evaluate what’s happening with ventilation and filtration,’” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.
June 18: “We Have to Get Out of This Phase”: Ashish Jha on the Future of the Pandemic (The New Yorker)
In a wide-ranging interview, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, and the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, discussed the future of COVID, the importance of good public health communication (especially during a pandemic), the need to develop a strategy to protect immunocompromised people, the mysteries of long COVID, vaccines for young children, and the importance of supporting global vaccination programs.
June 17: W.T.O. countries agree to a limited relaxing of patent protections on coronavirus vaccines. (New York Times)
Experts say that the easing of intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines is arriving too late and is too limited in scope to significantly affect global vaccine supply. Melissa Barber, a doctoral candidate in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Global Health and Population, was one of the experts quoted.
June 17: Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5: What to know about future coronavirus variants (TODAY)
Mutations, particularly in the coronavirus’ spike protein, may be allowing viral variants to evade immune protection. In the case of BA.2.12.1—responsible for roughly 64% of all U.S. COVID-19 cases as of June 11—these mutations are “believed to help it sidestep some of the antibodies that have been generated by previous infections or vaccines,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
June 14: When Covid Came for Provincetown (WIRED)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called Provincetown’s response to a COVID-19 outbreak in July 2021 “a huge success story.” He added, “It should have been a message. We can avoid large outbreaks, if we want to.” The article outlined how contact tracing, data analysis, and COVID restrictions such as masking helped contain the outbreak.
June 13: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett Helped Create the Covid Vaccine (Oprah Daily)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that her new laboratory will focus on the development of “better, broader vaccines and new treatments.” She said the lab is currently working with other researchers on universal coronavirus vaccines that would be able to protect against many coronaviruses with one shot.
June 13: COVID-19 Deadlier During Pregnancy, African Study Says (Voice of America)
Pregnant women who were hospitalized in sub-Saharan Africa were five times more likely to die in the hospital if they tested positive for the coronavirus, a study found. And being pregnant doubled the odds that a woman admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 would die. Pregnant women with COVID-19 were also at higher risk of serious complications requiring intensive care. Making COVID vaccines more accessible to pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa could help, said experts. Ana Langer, professor of the practice of public health and coordinator of the Women and Health Initiative, emphasized that the vaccines have been shown to be safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding women.
June 12: White House faces uphill challenge getting kids under 5 vaccinated (The Hill)
One reason parents may be reluctant to get their young children vaccinated for COVID is that there’s been a long gap between the initial rollout of vaccines—when there was a lot of initial excitement about them—and the expected authorization of kids’ shots, according to Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow.
June 10: Test to Return to the U.S. by Air Will Be Dropped (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted.
June 10: A negative COVID test has never been so meaningless (The Atlantic)
In recent months, many people have tested negative for three, four, even five or more days in a row, then go on to learn that they do have COVID. Said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, “If you’re turning symptomatic, assume you’re infectious”—with something, even if it turns out not to be SARS-CoV-2.
June 8: A Bellwether for COVID-19 (Harvard Medical School)
Screening programs at Boston-area universities helped show how quickly the Omicron variant of the coronavirus overtook the Delta variant in the fall of 2021. Said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and a co-author of the study, “[Omicron] moved so fast that we’d have missed a lot of cases if it weren’t for these screening programs run by colleges, but with them we were able to document the takeover.”
June 8: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Majority of Americans support more Covid aid for the uninsured (Politico)
Most Americans strongly believe that the federal government should continue to cover costs for COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and treatment for people who lack health insurance, according to a new poll. Said pollster Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, “If there were headlines that you can’t get antivirals in Nebraska, I wouldn’t want to be the one who said that I was against funding. This could bite back anybody.”
June 7: Why are boosted Americans testing positive for COVID more than those without extra shot? (McClatchy DC)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, offered one possible reason why COVID case rates have been higher among boosted individuals than among those vaccinated without a booster. “The wide availability of at-home tests has substantially muddied the waters, because these do not necessarily show up in official figures,” he said. “Individuals receiving boosters may be more likely to have their cases counted,” because “just in being boosted, they are displaying ‘health seeking’ behavior” and “they are more likely to have contact with healthcare and get a test that ends up in official stats.”
June 7: FDA advisers back Novavax’s latecomer COVID-19 vaccine (BioPharma Dive)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, quoted.
June 6: Severe Covid cases more likely in places with high air pollution, study finds (Independent)
Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard Chan School’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), quoted.
June 6: Coronavirus Briefing: The Summer Outlook (New York Times)
The overall COVID situation in the U.S. is likely to improve over the summer, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology—although the trend could be temporary. “Things are likely to be somewhat worse, especially in the fall and winter,” he said.
June 6: State has a lot more to do to keep students and educators safe from COVID (Boston Globe)
According to this op-ed co-authored by Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, students in Massachusetts lost 1.5 million class days, parents lost 1 million work days, and educators and staff lost more than a quarter of a million work days during the 2021-22 school year because of COVID. To deal with the virus now and in the future, the authors recommended that the state expand wastewater surveillance, make rapid antigen tests available to students and families, promote the use of masks, and improve vaccine uptake.
June 1: There will be another pandemic, infectious disease experts say. Here are 6 ways we can prepare for it (CNN Health)
Among the steps that should be taken to prepare for the next pandemic is to increase public health funding, say experts. “It’s hard, especially from a funding perspective, to convince people with big pocketbooks … to say, ‘Maybe it might happen, maybe it won’t, but we do need to put billions of dollars in that arena,’” said Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “Because of that, oftentimes a lot of the research dollars and a lot of the research mental capacity goes to the side of treatments. We want to be able to really shift that way of thinking.”
See stories from:
January and February 2020