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 late December 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets. Here’s a selection of stories from March 2020 in which they offer comments and context:
In this video conversation with John Whyte, chief medical officer of WebMD, Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, discussed the media’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for more focus on health equity issues related to the crisis, and steps people can take to manage the deluge of pandemic-related news.
March 31: The Difficulties When Coronavirus Cases Flood U.S. Hospitals (NPR’s “Morning Edition”)
Although massive efforts are underway to ensure that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients—such as a hospital ship opening in New York and automakers making ventilators—it still may not be enough, according to Ashish Jha. “I still don’t think we’re doing [things] as seriously as we need to,” he said. If people think that “this is somehow just going to affect the big cities on the coast, I think a lot of places are going to get into a lot of trouble. And they may not have the resources that New York has to throw at this problem, and that’s what I worry about,” he said. But one silver lining is the fact that the disease will peak at different times in different places. “Because everybody is getting hit at a different time, we can actually expand the set of resources we have by sharing more effectively,” he said.
The next epicenter of COVID-19 could be parts of the Southeast, given that numbers of cases are rising in Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana, according to Ashish Jha. “We are seeing cases rise quickly across all three states [and] other states as well and what that means is their hospitals are days away —or at most weeks away —from getting into the kind of trouble we are seeing in New York,” he said.
March 31: From the lab to COVID front lines (Harvard Gazette)
Technology born in the lab of Harvard AIDS pioneer Max Essex and nurtured by entrepreneurship resources on campus has played an important role in providing the needed reagents and diagnostic kits that are driving a surge in COVID-19 testing. In 2008, then-researchers at Essex’s Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership developed a platform that provided rapid, low-cost genotyping for HIV. One of the researchers went on to co-found a company in 2016, Aldatu Biosciences, that uses the platform to provide easy-to-use, low-cost diagnostics for resource-poor areas. Now the company is providing test kits for COVID-19 to local hospitals.
March 31: China Not Tracking Recovered Coronavirus Patients Who Test Positive Again (Voice of America )
Increasing numbers of people in China who recovered from the coronavirus are testing positive for a second time. Virologists are skeptical about the second-time infections, because they’re typically rare. One possibility could be inaccurate testing. “Testing is not always perfectly sensitive,” said epidemiologist William Hanage. “Some of those cases you’re seeing where it looks as if a person was testing positive, negative, then later tested positive again may be likely explained by one of the intermediate tests just not picking it up when it was there. The amount that that’s happening, we don’t really know.”
March 31: The Coronavirus Is Going To Change How We Think About Design (BisNow)
Better ventilation systems, touchless entry technology, and antimicrobial surfaces are a few of the building design elements that could become more widespread in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, say design experts. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen said that there is now a heightened awareness of how buildings can influence health. “The heightened awareness, I think, is going to come with a demand for better-performing buildings related to our health,” he said.
March 31: Exploring the Science of Social Distancing and What it Means for Everyday Life (National Academies of Sciences)
The science of social distancing was the focus of a March 25 webinar sponsored by the National Academy of Medicine and the American Public Health Association. Webinar panelists, including epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, spoke about the effectiveness of social distancing as well as its social and economic costs. “Social distancing impacts everyone,” said Lipsitch. “If we don’t do everything we can—ramping up testing, getting more ventilators in hospitals—it will be an even bigger tragedy. We need to use this time wisely.”
March 31: Harvard doctor says limited coronavirus supplies due to lack of centralized standards (Boston Herald)
A delayed federal response to the coronavirus, the large size of the U.S., and limited ability for a central command unit to pool resources from around the country have contributed to short supplies of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests, according to epidemiologist Michael Mina. “We have no way to centralize things in this country short of declaring martial law,” he said.
March 31: As national parks remain open during the novel coronavirus pandemic, seven workers are now infected (Washington Post)
The U.S. national park system remains open even though some employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and there have been complaints from employees who must still go to work. Epidemiologist William Hanage noted that even though the number of park employees infected isn’t high right now, COVID-19 is extremely infectious. “Whenever you see the virus, it’s moved on already — it will have infected other people by the time you become aware of it,” he said.
March 31: Testing coronavirus survivors’ blood could help reopen U.S. (Washington Post)
A key element to determining whether it’s OK to restart society after coronavirus shutdowns will be to conduct “serology tests”—blood tests that determine whether people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 have developed antibodies that give them some immunity to the virus. If some people were known to have immunity, they could go back to work, and could help others who are sick. But there are many logistical and scientific challenges associated with the tests, say experts. For instance, it’s unclear when and how to roll out such testing. “I think a lot of groups are trying to figure that out right now,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. “We’ve never had quite this situation.”
March 31: The White House projects 100,000 to 200,000 Covid-19 deaths (Vox)
Between 100,000 and 200,000 people may die during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the White House’s coronavirus task force. The number of deaths per day is expected to peak in mid-April. Epidemiologist William Hanage said that 100,000 to 200,000 deaths “certainly seem to be within the reasonable framework.” He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers turned out to be higher or lower. “One of the things that’s difficult for those of us who’ve been involved with modeling this is communicating the amounts of uncertainty that we have.”
March 31: Experts worry Florida moved too slowly on coronavirus — and the worst is yet to come (South Florida Sun Sentinel)
As of March 31, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had not ordered a statewide stay-at-home order to curb the COVID-19 epidemic, in spite of projections that the disease could kill thousands of Floridians. Said epidemiologist William Hanage, “I would be quite anxious about the potential for rapid spread in Florida.”
March 31: How to explain to a skeptic that the coronavirus should be taken seriously (Business Insider Australia)
Some in the U.S. may be in denial about the seriousnessness of the COVID-19 pandemic—a natural human response to overwhelming emotion and panic, according to experts. But they say it’s important to convince Americans to stay home to curb the spread of the disease and to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Senior research scientist Elena Savoia, deputy director of the Emergency Preparedness, Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP), said the message needs to focus not on COVID-19’s danger to individuals, but on the fact that if the health system is overwhelmed, patients in need of non-COVID-19 medical treatment may be unable to access it. “We need to make people understand that the behaviors we adopt now will have an impact on our own freedom and health, even if we are lucky and we are not getting COVID-19,” she said.
March 31: City of Cambridge Convenes COVID-19 Expert Advisory Panel (The Crimson)
Two faculty members from Harvard Chan School were among those named to a Cambridge COVID-19 Expert Advisory Panel: Paul Biddinger, EPREP director at Harvard Chan School and vice chairman for emergency preparedness in Mass General’s Emergency Medicine Department; and epidemiologist William Hanage.
March 30: COVID-19 and Public Health Policy (C-SPAN)
In this video interview, Howard Koh, who served as assistant secretary of health under President Obama, discussed public health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to invest in pandemic preparedness in the future. “In a time where there are so many public health threats with respect to opioids, tobacco, mental health and other issues that make up an average public health day, often we do not spend a moment to prepare for the future, which is desperately needed,” he said.
March 30: Then as now: Pandemic harkens back to 1918 (Eagle Tribune)
The 1918 flu pandemic led to city shutdowns, school closings, bans on public gatherings, and quarantines. Howard Koh said the current coronavirus pandemic underscores the importance of prevention and preparedness. “The lessons we learned from 1918 are ones we are relearning a century later,” he said. He noted that the 1918 experience shows that social distancing saved lives.
March 30: Best-Case Scenario: August Peak For Coronavirus In Ocean County (Patch, Brick, NJ)
The number of COVID-19 infections in Ocean County, New Jersey could top 100,000 by early May if strict physical distancing measures aren’t kept up, according to recent research that estimated the spread of the coronavirus in every county in America. Gov. Phil Murphy has urged people to stay home if possible. But FXB Center director Mary Bassett said that health, economic, and social inequalities in the U.S. make it difficult for many people to stay home—because they can’t afford to miss a day’s pay or take a sick day. “These inequalities … mean that we are both more susceptible and more likely to have people who are not going to follow the public health advice of social distancing, hand-washing and seeking prompt medical care because they risk their livelihood,” she said.
March 30: Strengthening immunity against racism through solidarity (The Hill)
In this opinion piece, social scientist David Williams and co-author Anthony Ong of Cornell University wrote about incidents of harassment and violence against Asian Americans that have occurred amid fears over the coronavirus. “Just as mitigating the transmission of pathogens requires a robust immune response, halting the spread of bigotry and fear necessitates mounting a vigorous community response,” they wrote.
March 30: Point-of-care COVID-19 tests could help focus on worst hit areas (UPI)
Fast and simple tests for COVID-19 that will soon be available could be used in hospital emergency rooms, urgent-care clinics, and doctors’ offices in areas hard hit by the disease. Howard Koh said that the new “point-of-care” tests—which reveal results on site—will greatly improve testing capacity. “Testing had been a challenge initially, but it’s now ramping up,” he said.
March 30: Wither the handshake? (Harvard Gazette)
The handshake has vanished in recent weeks as people limit close contact to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Epidemiologist William Hanage said he hopes the handshake returns at some point, but for now it’s important to hold off. “Because this is a pandemic, because there is virtually no population immunity, and because we know that people can transmit while being either presymptomatic or showing minimal symptoms, every handshake that you have runs the risk of exposing you or the person you are shaking hands with to the virus,” he said.
March 30: Opinion: On the Hospital Front Lines, Conquering Fear and Finding Hope (U.S. News & World Report)
“I have broken down in tears at various points, especially as I grapple with the weight of the shared fear and isolation of my patients,” wrote Renee Salas, Yerby Fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), in this commentary about her experience as an emergency room doctor on the COVID-19 front lines. “Yet this underscores why it has never been more critical to respond with selfless, loving service.” She said that the pandemic provides an opportunity for neighbors and communities to work collaboratively to improve the situation—for example, by following quarantine orders and by advocating for the mobilization of sorely needed tests for COVID-19 and medical equipment. “We are all grieving the loss of the world as we knew it,” she wrote. “Yet this also means we have a profound opportunity and responsibility to unite in shared hope as we envision a better world — one that is more loving, just and better prepared for the next emergency.”
“Summer alone is not going to bring transmission to a level where the number of cases shrinks,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of COVID-19. “It’s really clear that warmer weather does not stop the transmission or growth of the virus.” If social distancing is used as the main way to control the spread of the virus, the best way to do it is on-again, off-again, over months, he said. “With each cycle, we’ll get more time off social distancing, because the buildup of immunity in the population helps to slow the spread.” He added, “I want to be clear: as an epidemiologist, I’m saying what I think existing tools make possible for the purposes of disease control, and not what I think is socially desirable. Multiple rounds of social distancing are not something I look forward to.”
March 30: Facing a pandemic, Broad does a quick pivot (Harvard Gazette)
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, partnering with state officials and local hospitals, converted one of its labs into a COVID-19 testing facility that can process 2,000 or more samples each day. Epidemiologist Michael Mina helped adapt the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing protocol at the lab.
March 30: A multipronged attack against a shared enemy (Harvard Gazette)
Researchers at Harvard are exploring a variety of ways to fight the coronavirus, such as designing new antiviral treatments or repurposing existing ones, or using antibodies from the plasma of recovered patients for treatments. At Harvard Chan School, researchers are modeling how different therapeutics might help curb the pandemic. “The modeling work is actually really important in trying to help us take steps forward and figure out how much we can expect from any one of these drugs [or vaccines],” said Sarah Fortune.
March 30: Lax pollution enforcement can stress hospitals during virus (E&E News)
On March 23, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would relax pollution enforcement during the coronavirus pandemic. But public health experts say that the move by the Trump administration will endanger people with respiratory illnesses, who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. “EPA’s decision to weaken pollution enforcement could make a bad situation much worse at a time when the demand for medical care is already stressed,” said Kathy Fallon Lambert, a senior adviser with C-CHANGE. “It’s an unconscionable triple whammy that could lead to increased demands for medical care, increased respiratory illness from air pollution and increased COVID-19 cases.” Noted Aaron Bernstein, “Air pollution is strongly associated with people’s risk of getting pneumonia and other respiratory infections and with getting sicker when they do get pneumonia.”
Leaders in several countries, such as the U.S., China, Iran, and Brazil, minimized the coronavirus outbreak at first for political or economic reasons. The result was widespread disease, nationwide lockdowns, and overwhelmed health care systems. Experts say that intervening earlier in an outbreak with strict social distancing measures, even though painful in the short term, is better than waiting. Said Ashish Jha, “But when it gets bad if left unaddressed, it’s really late in the game, and the stuff you have to do is so much worse.”
March 30: Can Survivors of the Coronavirus Help Cure the Disease and Rescue the Economy? (New Yorker)
Some are wondering whether people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 can go back to work to help restart the U.S. economy. But experts say it’s not yet known if those who’ve recovered can be reinfected. If they do gain immunity, it’s not known how long it would last. Previous studies of coronaviruses suggest that while complete immunity “doesn’t last long,” subsequent bouts are less severe and likely less contagious, said Marc Lipsitch. “That should be our guiding hypothesis,” he said.
March 30: Is coronavirus growth slowing in New Orleans? Trends suggest so, but virus is surging elsewhere (The Times Picayune)
Recent data suggests that the growth rate of known coronavirus cases in the New Orleans area is slowing. Experts cautioned that it’s too soon to know if the slower growth rate is a long-term trend, but they also said it’s encouraging. Said Marc Lipsitch, “Any reduction even in the rate of increase is an achievement because it flattens the curve.” Flattening the curve refers to slowing the spread of the virus, which is important because it lowers the chance of overwhelming the health system.
March 30: Americans Are Already Too Diseased to Go Back to Work Right Now (New York Times)
Some think the U.S. should focus on those most at risk for complications from the coronavirus—the elderly and people with chronic disease—so that most of the country can return to normal life. But David Ludwig, professor in the Department of Nutrition, and co-author Richard Malley, a physician specializing in infectious diseases, wrote that most Americans are actually at risk for COVID-19 complications—because of obesity. “So with only a small minority of the population that can be confidently considered low risk, relaxing restrictions on them makes no sense,” they wrote. The added that “calls to relax restrictions offer a false choice. Letting the pandemic ravage the population won’t save money — it simply risks even greater economic calamity.”
March 30: Andrew Cuomo, Stop a Coronavirus Disaster: Release People From Prison (New York Times)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released 1,100 people from New York’s jails and prisons, but he should release many more in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus in those facilities, wrote Mary Bassett, FXB director and former New York City health commissioner, in an op-ed co-authored with Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. They recommended the release of elderly inmates, those in jail because of noncriminal parole violations, and those up to 180 days from parole. They also urged the governor to furlough low-risk inmates. “This is not only an issue about the health of people in prisons, but also a public health crisis that threatens to become a humanitarian disaster,” they wrote.
March 29: Coronavirus will spread to red states next Sebelius says (MSNBC)
In spite of White House assurances on March 26 that there were enough ICU beds and ventilators for COVID-19 patients in New York, Ashish Jha said that the situation could change when numbers of patients surge. “When … most health analysts say, ‘We’re going have a shortage and we need to get going on it right now,’ I think that is undoubtedly true. I’m worried about where this is going. I think we have to … level with people that there’s going to be a potential shortage.”
“As the world mobilizes to contain the coronavirus and its fallout, we can’t lose sight of the bigger, equally alarming picture: The next pandemic is only a matter of time,” wrote Jane Kim, dean for academic affairs and professor of health decision science, and Dean Michelle Williams in this commentary. “The U.S. needs to start preparing for it as soon as possible.”
March 29: How widespread is coronavirus in New York? We need to know (Vox CEPR Policy Portal)
It’s crucial to have an accurate idea of the true number of cases of COVID-19 in order to better understand the disease’s transmission and whether prevention measures are working, wrote David Canning and David Bloom. They argued that, short of testing everyone—impossible because the lack of test kits, other medical supplies, lab capacity, and personnel—testing a representative random sample of 5,000 people in New York state would help pin down the prevalence of COVID-19 infection. “As more test kits become available, setting aside a portion to achieve a basic level of community surveillance is likely to pay tremendous dividends,” they wrote.
March 29: Leveraging SNAP to alleviate poverty — a proven policy approach needed now (The Hill)
Congress should increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help low-income households most affected by COVID-19 and to provide a boost to the economy, according to an op-ed co-authored by Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy. Bleich also co-authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Feeding Low-Income Children during the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
March 28: Does washing your clothes prevent the spread of the coronavirus? (MarketWatch)
For the most part, experts don’t think it’s necessary for people to spend a lot of extra time washing their clothes to avoid catching COVID-19. “The average person should not worry about their clothing,” said Sarah Fortune. “If you are a health-care provider and potentially subject to a high density of virus, the answer is different. But for most of us, it is all about our hands and face.”
March 27: On-again, off-again looks to be best social-distancing option (Harvard Gazette)
A staggered pattern of social distancing could save lives, avoid overwhelming hospitals, and allow time for the population to build immunity to the coronavirus, according to a new modeling study led by Yonatan Grad and Marc Lipsitch. Grad said he doesn’t know if the political will exists to impose on-again, off-again treatment over many months, but Sarah Fortune said she thinks it is the most realistic strategy. Ashish Jha said that, given the virus’ current spread, the U.S. needs very aggressive social distancing, as well as much more testing, increased production of protective equipment for health care workers, and a coordinated national response.
March 27: Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Misinformation Puts Public Health at Risk (Thrive Global)
Dean Michelle Williams and health communications expert Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath argue that misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 “can be as contagious and more dangerous than the disease itself.” They recommended seeking information about COVID-19 from reputable sources such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, and Harvard Chan School; verifying the news you hear; maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism; getting used to uncertainty; and not spending too much time checking the news or Twitter. “For now, the best weapon we have against this pandemic is the truth,” they wrote.
March 27: The realities of coronavirus ‘super-spreading’ (Boston Globe)
Scientists have long known that some people are “super-spreaders” of infectious diseases. As for what’s causing such super-spreading in the COVID-19 pandemic, experts point to a range of circumstantial, biological, and behavioral factors. For example, the disease could spread simply because someone is around a lot of people at a particular time. “If the person becomes highly infectious at the point they go to a bar to celebrate St. Patrick’s, say, then it can transmit to an extremely large number of people,” said epidemiologist William Hanage. He added, though, that the term “super-spreader” can stigmatize people. “You don’t want to be blaming people who have unknowingly done this,” he said.
March 27: What Will It Take to Flatten the Coronavirus Curve? (Wall Street Journal)
“Flattening the curve”—slowing transmissions of COVID-19—is crucial to avoid overloading hospitals, say experts. Suppressing the disease requires population-wide social distancing, home isolation of people with symptoms, and business and school closings, they say. A new study co-authored by Marc Lipsitch found that intermittent social distancing for many months may be necessary to keep numbers of critically ill patients at a manageable level. “The need for intense social distancing is very strong,” he said. “People who get infected today take an average of around three weeks before they are sick enough to need intensive care, if they’re going to get that sick.”
March 27: What Should The Government Spend To Save A Life? (FiveThirtyEight)
A metric that measures the value of an individual person’s life—the “value of a statistical life,” or VSL—may help in figuring out what society is willing to pay to reduce the risk of mortality from COVID-19, say experts. The VSL sheds light on how much we’re willing to spend to reduce the odds of dying, which economists have estimated at roughly $9.5 million to $10 million per person in the U.S. Those estimates show why spending trillions to fight COVID might be a good investment, they say. “Let’s say one of our worst-case scenarios comes to pass, and 2 million people die,” said risk analysis expert James Hammitt. “Multiply that by $9 million or $10 million and we’re talking about up to $20 trillion as the value of preventing those deaths. That suggests it’s worth expending a fair amount of our resources to mitigate this.”
March 26: The Four Possible Timelines for Life Returning to Normal (The Atlantic)
With American life near a standstill due to stringent measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, epidemiologists say there are several possible timelines under which people may be able to safely leave their houses to work, go to school, or have fun. Depending on how the pandemic progresses, extreme social distancing could be relaxed in a month or two, in three to four months, in four to 12 months, or in 12 to 18 months. Discussing the four-to-12-month scenario, William Hanage said, “Once the [current] wave is dealt with, then some things might relax—a little.”
March 26: Harvard Professor Vikram Patel on Coronavirus, Mental Health & Lockdown (The Quint)
India’s stringent lockdown in response to the coronavirus has led people to panic, said Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, in this video interview. He said that misinformation about the severity of the disease has sown fear, constantly changing policies have caused stress, and isolation resulting from social distancing could be difficult, particularly for older people. He also expressed concern about people’s loss of livelihood and inability to access health care for chronic diseases. “I think what’s important now is … to make sure this lockdown is as brief as possible, and that during this period all essential services are actually being accessed without any constraints,” he said.
March 26: Social distancing won’t last forever. But ending it by Easter will kill people. (Washington Post)
“Relaxing national vigilance and movement restrictions aimed at preventing more novel coronavirus infections [by Easter] would be like throwing a drowning person a life raft and then shooting it full of holes,” wrote William Hanage in this op-ed. “Once the pandemic has peaked in emergency rooms and ICUs, we will enter a new period in which social distancing will not be required to the extent it is now. The goal will be to avoid explosive outbreaks that overwhelm our resources to cope. We don’t yet know exactly when this will be, but we must deal with the initial surge of infections, which we expect over the next month or so.”
March 26: Battling the Pandemic of Fear (Thrive Global)
“As the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, another pandemic has been incubating close behind: a pandemic of fear,” wrote Harvard Chan School’s Karestan Koenen, Jordan Smoller, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Alisa Lincoln of Northeastern University. Noting that “fear unchecked is toxic to our mental health,” the authors urged support for preventive and intervention strategies to combat the fear induced by COVID-19.
March 26: Harvard Researchers: One Long Lockdown Is Not The Right Approach (The Daily Wire)
Intermittent lockdowns, instead of a single prolonged one, may be the best approach to curbing the coronavirus pandemic, according to a March 24 study by Harvard Chan School researchers published on the preprint server medRxiv. An intermittent strategy would give society at large time to build up immunity to COVID-19, while measures like “stay-at-home” orders are imposed periodically to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed. Authors of the article included research fellow Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases; Christine Tedijanto, a third year PhD student in the Population Health Sciences program; Marc Lipsitch; and Yonatan Grad.
March 26: Public Health Professor Answers Listener Questions About The Coronavirus (NPR’s “All Things Considered”)
Among questions about the coronavirus answered by Ashish Jha: “Is it OK to play frisbee during social distancing?” Jha said it’s safe to toss a frisbee back and forth if you keep 10-12 feet away from your frisbee partner—but because COVID-19 could potentially be spread by the frisbee, make sure to wash your hands before touching your face.
March 26: Online forum aims to teach how to deal with pandemic stress (Harvard Gazette)
Listening to music, exercising, staying in touch with friends and family, and maintaining a stable routine can boost resilience in the face of stress from COVID-19, said Christy Denckla, research associate in epidemiology, and Karmel Choi, clinical and research fellow in psychology at the Chan School and Massachusetts General Hospital, in a March 25 online forum on the emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic.
March 26: COVID-19: your questions, answered (World Economic Forum)
A panel of medical experts from around the world, including Dean Michelle Williams, answered questions from the World Economic Forum’s Instagram followers about the coronavirus pandemic. In answer to the question “Is it possible that one day this will happen again?” Williams said, “The next pandemic is only a matter of time. And as has become painfully obvious over these past few weeks, we remain dangerously underprepared.”
March 26: Don’t panic about shopping, getting delivery or accepting (Washington Post)
Worried about getting exposed to COVID-19 from a delivered package, restaurant takeout, or grocers from the market? The risk is low, according to this op-ed from Joseph Allen.
March 26: What the cruise-ship outbreaks reveal about COVID-19 (Nature)
Studies of outbreaks of COVID-19 on cruise ships have provided important information about the virus’ spread, severity, and ability to infect people asymptomatically. The ships are an ideal place to study the outbreak because they are closed systems, where everyone on board can be tested. Studying COVID-19 in the general population is much harder because many cases go undetected. Marc Lipsitch called some of the cruise ship research “an important effort.”
March 26: Harvard doctor says coronavirus epicenter targeting US, but gaps in health care persist (Boston Herald)
The U.S. is facing serious problems in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, including a lack of medical supplies and hospital space, and “abysmal” assistance with testing from the federal government, said Ashish Jha. Officials have known since January that the outbreak was coming, and could have used that time to better prepare, he said. “We wasted two months. Two months is a long time to waste in a pandemic. Time is not on our side,” he said.
March 25: Coronavirus: ‘Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief (The Guardian)
Experts say that the coronavirus pandemic shows that humanity is placing too many pressures on the natural world. They say that both global warming and the destruction of the natural world for farming, mining, and housing need to stop, because both drive animals that carry pathogens into increasing contact with people. They also urged that wet markets—where live wild animals are butchered and sold—be permanently banned, and that nations crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. “We’ve had SARS, MERS, COVID-19, HIV,” said C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein. “We need to see what nature is trying to tell us here. We need to recognize that we’re playing with fire.”
March 25: ‘No Shortcuts’: Coronavirus Vaccine Developed by Cambridge-Based Company Begins Phase One of Testing (Harvard Crimson)
Biotechnology companies racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 face steep challenges, say experts. Barry Bloom said of the typical vaccine development process, “You have to formulate it. You have to test it in Phase One, Two and Three studies to show in the first two that it’s safe and the third it’s effective. And that takes years.” Sarah Fortune said that there are also “biologic challenges” to developing a safe and effective vaccine, such as the fact that “all immune responses are not the same.” While Fortune said that a vaccine is the “most effective solution” to the coronavirus, Yonatan Grad emphasized the importance of social distancing and widespread testing. The latter, he said, is “the backbone of a response.”
Computer simulations of the spread of the coronavirus are being heavily relied on by cities and countries to decide whether to impose strict lockdowns. But different models can produce very different outcomes. William Hanage said that politicians shouldn’t automatically trust models claiming to show how a little-studied virus can be kept in check. “It’s like, you’ve decided you’ve got to ride a tiger, except you don’t know where the tiger is, how bit it is, or how many tigers there actually are,” he said.
March 25: The Coronavirus Is Mutating. But That May Not Be A Problem For Humans (NPR’s “Goats and Soda”)
Although the genetic makeup of the coronavirus is changing slightly, experts say that viruses change small parts of their genetic code all the time, and that the changes occurring in the coronavirus won’t necessarily make it more dangerous. “In the literal sense of ‘is it changing genetically,’ the answer is absolutely yes,” said Marc Lipsitch. “What is in question is whether there’s been any change that’s important to the course of disease or the transmissibility or other things that we as humans care about.” So far, he said, “there is no credible evidence of a change in the biology of the virus either for better or for worse.”
In this opinion piece, Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and co-author Regan Bergmark, also a Brigham and Women’s surgeon, wrote that “health workers are terrified” because they are caring for COVID-19 patients in spite of a critical lack of personal protective equipment such as masks, goggles, and respirators. “Health care workers are an invaluable resource in this pandemic,” they wrote. “We are not expendable.”
What is the best way to begin to relax stay-at-home and other social distancing measures while keeping COVID-19 under control? Strategies that would help ease the transition include aggressive tracing of contacts of sick people, much more widespread testing, targeted quarantines, and tracking technology, say experts. Marc Lipsitch said that if numbers of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. get low enough, “you may be able to get away potentially with less social distancing the second time around, because you’re controlling the individual cases.”
March 25: ‘We are your future’: Will all of America become like New York? (Politico)
With coronavirus infections multiplying by the thousands in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted on March 24 that the rest of the nation will follow suit. William Hanage said, “Some places will be affected more than others and some places will be affected earlier than others. However, everywhere should be preparing for this.”
March 25: Gov. Ron DeSantis won’t shut down Florida. Here’s who he’s talking to about that. (Tampa Bay Times)
While more than a dozen governors have ordered the closure of many businesses and have ordered residents to shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to do so. But public health experts say that Florida doesn’t have much time to take action before hospitals become overwhelmed. “It is past time to intervene to slow transmission [in Florida],” said Marc Lipsitch.
March 25: Charlie Baker names coronavirus advisory board of medical, infectious disease experts (Boston Herald)
Emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger was among five medical and infectious disease experts named by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to a new advisory group aimed at helping the state make strategic decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 25: CAA Teams With Harvard, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global for #FirstRespondersFirst Initiative (Hollywood Reporter)
A new initiative from Harvard Chan School, the CAA Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Creative Arts Agency), and Thrive Global is aimed at providing health care workers with physical and psychological resources as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Said Dean Michelle Williams, “As this crisis continues to unfold, it’s important for those on the frontlines to be fortified with essential equipment while being supported to care for themselves.”
March 25: Special message of hope to ECEC sector from Harvard’s Dr Jack Shonkoff (The Sector)
With coronavirus spreading around the U.S., stresses are increasing exponentially for all, especially for millions of parents already struggling with adversities such as low-wage work, unstable housing, and food insecurity, according to Jack Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. He said that a toxic overload of adversities can lead to substance abuse, family violence, and mental health problems. The Center plans to offer science-based information to support the developmental needs of young children and their families in the context of the coronavirus, he said. “The question is not whether we will get through the ordeal that lies ahead — because we will,” he said in a recent statement.
President Trump said on March 24 that he wants the U.S. “opened up” by Easter, but public health experts say it’s too soon to let up on business closures and social distancing measures in light of expected increases in COVID-19 cases. Thomas Tsai said, “In this time of crisis and uncertainty what we have to rely on are data. We have to let the data and the evidence that we have available to us guide us. … And what the facts are telling us is that the epidemic is real, and it is rapidly growing.”
March 25: Are You Leading Through the Crisis … or Managing the Response? (Harvard Business Review)
Effective leadership in a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic involves guiding people to the best possible outcome over time, according to this article co-authored by Eric McNulty, NPLI associate director, and Leonard Marcus, NPLI founding co-director. They wrote that the best leaders take a broad view of the challenges and opportunities presented by a crisis, avoid micro-managing and over-centralizing the response, and unite employees in a shared mission. “The most effective leaders in crises ensure that someone else is managing the present well while focusing their attention on leading beyond the crisis toward a more promising future,” they wrote.
March 25: Here’s How Often You Should Disinfect Surfaces During Self-Quarantine (Elite Daily)
There are steps people can take in their homes to reduce the risk of infection with the coronavirus, such as wiping down delivered packages or the outside of takeout food containers. Preparedness fellow Rachael Piltch-Loeb suggests cleaning the things you tend to touch the most, such as your cellphone, doorknobs, and remote controls. She also emphasized the need for social distancing. “You are less likely to to become infected and pass the virus to others by staying home,” she said.
March 24: How Climate Change Increases Our Risk For Pandemics (Lakeshore Public Radio)
As animals lose their habitats due to climate change, they are coming into contact with humans more often—and transmitting disease. While scientists don’t yet know what caused the novel coronavirus, they suspect it passed from an animal to a human, according to C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein. “We’re transforming the climate and we can’t pretend that these radical changes to how the Earth works and life on Earth are not going to affect our health,” he said.
March 24: To End The Coronavirus Crisis We Need Widespread Testing, Experts Say (Iowa Public Radio)
With tests for COVID-19 in short supply, and shortages in personal protective gear, it’s important that health care workers and the very ill get priority for testing, according to Ashish Jha. But as soon as more tests are available, testing must become much more widespread, he said—first for close contacts of those who are ill, so they can be quarantined and monitored; then for people who are mildly ill, to determine whether they have COVID-19; then for a random segment of the population, to find asymptomatic cases. “That’s the priority list, I think most experts agree,” he said.
March 24: Trump’s Itch to Reboot the Economy Would Be a Fatal Error (Wired)
President Trump suggested on March 23 that social distancing restrictions in the U.S., aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, may ease in weeks rather than months. But many epidemiologists say that months of social distancing are just what is needed to prevent millions of deaths from COVID-19. William Hanage noted that in other places that have had outbreaks, like Wuhan, it took roughly four weeks of a lockdown before new infections began to slow, “about how long it takes infected people to become really sick.” That’s why experts say it’s important to keep social distancing measures in place—to see whether they’re paying off.
March 24: Will inequality worsen the toll of the pandemic in the U.S.? (Harvard Gazette)
The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. could be the world’s worst because of the country’s longstanding structural inequality, according to Mary Bassett. She noted that the U.S. has the world’s largest prison population, often living in crowded conditions; a low-income population with health conditions that raise the risk of COVID-19 complications; and a thin social safety net. Government action offering financial support to laid-off or idled workers, and policies that ease prison crowding, will be key to lowering the toll of the coronavirus, she said.
March 24: Lockdown’s Success in China Offers Hope for World’s Virus Fight (Bloomberg)
Early data suggests that a global clampdown on public life is helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But it’s not clear how long the measures will have to remain in place to keep the virus at bay. Marc Lipsitch said that social distancing—keeping people physically distant from each other as much as possible—is like applying the brakes to a car speeding down a hill. “If you let your foot off the brake, which is letting up on interventions, then gravity will start to accelerate the car again,” he said. “As long as there are any cases around, you will start to speed up and get more cases.”
March 24: 2 views on balancing medical risk and economic pain (PBS NewsHour)
While it’s important to consider the economic pain of measures being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Marc Lipsitch said that without such measures—including social distancing and the closure of businesses and schools—many people will die and the health care system will be overwhelmed. “I think our political leadership has encouraged a feeling of, we should privilege the present over the future,” Lipsitch said. “It’s just not responsible. Leadership means that, when there is a problem, you encourage the people to sacrifice what’s needed to have a better outcome in the future.”
March 24: Should older Americans die to save the economy? Ethicists call it a false choice. (Washington Post)
Navigating the COVID-19 crisis requires finding a balance between protecting public health and protecting the economy, say policymakers, ethicists, and religious leaders. Ashish Jha said that people have set up a false dichotomy between the two. “It is possibly the dumbest debate we’re having,” said Jha. “People are being incredibly simplistic and are not thinking through this beyond the next two weeks.”
March 24: Who Should Be Saved First? Experts Offer Ethical Guidance (New York Times)
With hospital beds and ventilators predicted to be in short supply for the expected numbers of COVID-19 patients, experts say that clinicians will be confronted with having to ration care, as doctors in Italy have already had to do. To make such difficult decisions, many ethicists recommend using a utilitarian approach, in which care would be directed toward those most likely to benefit the most from it, according to this article by Austin Frakt, senior research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
Chances are that if you live with others, you’ll eventually be living with someone who has COVID-19, wrote Joseph Allen and Marc Lipsitch in this op-ed. Among their recommendations: Open the windows, turn on the humidifier, and run the bathroom exhaust fan. These and other steps can minimize risk of coronavirus spreading through your home if family members and roommates fall ill, they wrote.
March 24: Our Growing Food Demands Will Lead to More Corona-like Viruses (Inside Climate News)
As people destroy animals’ forest habitats—mostly for agriculture and grazing cattle—animals that carry viruses such as the coronavirus are coming into increasing contact with humans. Climate change, which leads to some food-growing regions becoming too hot or wet, is one of the drivers forcing agriculture into new areas—and shrinking animal habitats. “Creatures big and small, on land and in sea, are being pushed to the poles to get out of the heat,” said C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein. “That makes them come into contact with animals that they wouldn’t otherwise.”
March 23: Don’t Halt Social Distancing. Instead, Do It Right. (The Atlantic)
Social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 is personally and economically painful, and some are questioning whether it’s worth it. In this article, Ashish Jha and Aaron Carroll of Indiana University School of Medicine wrote that the human cost of stopping social distancing “would be devastating, and the economic toll from that devastation might be even steeper than what we’re seeing right now. More people could die from COVID-19 … in just a few months than have died in every single war this country has fought since its inception.” Jha and Carroll said two things are needed right now: complete cessation of all nonessential activities for at least two weeks, and massive testing of the population.
March 23: ‘Way too early’: Health officials warn about perils of restarting economy (Politico)
Public health experts are horrified at the prospect of resuming business across the U.S. before coronavirus is under control. But President Trump is considering pulling back on social distancing. “It is way too early to even consider rolling back any guidelines,” said Howard Koh. “With cases and deaths rising by the day, the country must double down, not lighten up, on social distancing and related measures.”
March 23: Trump says he may soon push businesses to reopen, defying the advice of coronavirus experts (Washington Post)
President Trump said he may soon loosen federal guidelines regarding social distancing and urge now-closed businesses to reopen—even though public health experts say social distancing must continue for many more weeks to stop the spread of COVID-19. Marc Lipsitch said, “Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them. If we let up now, we can be virtually certain that health care will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country.”
March 23: Far more people in the U.S. have the coronavirus than you think (Washington Post)
To stop the coronavirus, “We must vastly expand our testing capacity,” wrote Marc Lipsitch. “No country has controlled transmission effectively without massive testing capacity.”
Demand for COVID-19 care is spiking in Massachusetts. But Thomas Tsai said that, “over the last several days, the incredible sense of urgency that has taken place in our hospitals [has] really given us a fighting chance to identify, as well as treat, these patients.”
March 23: Life on Lockdown in China (New Yorker)
China’s strategy for slowing the spread of COVID-19 involved the largest quarantine in history. Some experts wonder if the quarantine will only be a temporary solution—if the virus will come back after people go back to work and school. Marc Lipsitch said that the transition back to normal life would be difficult, like letting the air out of a balloon slowly. “I think it will bounce back,” he said of the virus. “But you will have delayed things, and, if you don’t let it bounce back too much before you put the clamps on again, then you may spare the hospitals from getting overwhelmed. But it’s a really painful process, and people are going to get tired of it.”
March 23: Harvard coronavirus survey: How’re we doing? Not bad so far (Harvard Gazette)
Nearly 70% of respondents to an online survey say they don’t trust the ability of their country’s health services and authorities to control the COVID-19 epidemic. But they also say they are confident about the information they’re getting as well as their ability to protect themselves from the pandemic. The survey, developed by Harvard Humanitarian Initiative researchers Phuong Pham and Patrick Vinck, is aimed at tracking, monitoring, and analyzing global socio-behavioral trends to inform the COVID-19 global response.
March 23: Harvard scientist says climate change could be fueling recent boom in devastating outbreaks (Boston 25 News)
The increasing frequency of infectious disease outbreaks—including SARS, Ebola, and COVID-19—may have something to do with climate change, say experts. For example, changing climates can spur wild animals to look for new habitats, where they come into increasing contact with humans. “Wild animals have viruses in their bodies all the time, which don’t necessarily make them sick, but when they get into people, they make us sick,” said C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein. He added that air pollution from fossil fuels can make people more susceptible to respiratory infections like COVID-19.
Chatbots—online symptom checkers—are being used to screen patients for signs of COVID-19. But different chatbots tested by reporters provided conflicting and sometimes confusing information. “These tools generally make me sort of nervous because it’s very hard to validate how accurate they are,” said Andrew Beam, assistant professor of epidemiology. “If you don’t really know how good the tool is, it’s hard to understand if you’re actually helping or hurting from a public health perspective.”
March 23: Getting Non-Coronavirus Care a Complicated Effort (WebMD)
Hospitals, clinics, and doctors are trying to provide care for patients such as pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, and those with injuries, while minimizing their risk of infection with COVID-19. Surgeries are being postponed, doctors’ offices are closing or only treating emergencies, and routine checkups are being canceled, while telehealth is on the rise. Marc Lipsitch said that COVID-19 patients need to be the focus of medical attention right now, and others should be mindful of the risk of catching the disease. “Obviously sick people come to hospitals,” he said. “The general notion of trying to avoid hospitals is an even better idea than avoiding shopping malls or bars.”
Personal protective equipment—masks, eye protection, gloves, and gowns—is in short supply for healthcare workers on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19. As for when COVID-19 containment and mitigation efforts in the U.S. will have any effect, Visiting scientist Eric Feigl-Ding said that any measurable slowdown of infection will probably take three to four weeks.
March 22: Five Things You Can Do to Manage Your Coronavirus Stress (Thrive Global)
Taking extra time and care for ourselves to improve our well-being—to prioritize mental and emotional health—is critical during the coronavirus pandemic, wrote Dean Michelle Williams and Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health. They advised: practice physical distancing, but not social isolation; stay mindful and active; limit news consumption; create a new routine to fit your new normal; and seek help when you need it.
Part of the reason for rapidly increasing case counts of people with COVID-19 is that testing has ramped up, according to health officials. But the available data is incomplete because of the delay in implementing widespread testing, and because many cases have gone unreported. It will also take some time before it’s clear whether measures to contain the spread of disease—such as social distancing, self-quarantining, and the closure of schools, businesses, and public events—is helping tamp down the pandemic. “I think it will also be visible to some extent in what is happening in hospitals, the number of cases being seen, the number of critical care beds beings used,” said Yonatan Grad.
March 22: Why Testing Can Slow The Spread Of The Coronavirus (WBUR News)
Although testing isn’t the only strategy needed to stem the spread of coronavirus, “without testing, we don’t know who has it, who doesn’t,” said Ashish Jha. “We don’t know who’s spreading it. We don’t know which communities have high disease burden versus low disease burden. We are blindfolded, and I’d like to take the blindfolds off so we can fight this battle with our eyes wide open.”
March 22: Hoarding Of Malaria Drug Under Investigation As Potential COVID-19 Treatment Undermines Public Health Efforts, Doctors Say (WBUR’s CommonHealth)
Drug trials are currently underway to see if the drug hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, might also be safe and effective to use for treating COVID-19. It appears that people—including doctors—are hoarding the drug. Some experts say that if doctors are hoarding it’s unethical. Health policy expert Michael Barnett said that if the drug works, it must be saved for those who need it most.
March 21: As Most Labs Stop Work, Researchers Across Harvard Search for Solutions to the Coronavirus Pandemic (Harvard Crimson)
Harvard researchers from a range of disciplines are working on ways to contain and treat the coronavirus. At Harvard Chan School, the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics is focused on transmission patterns in the U.S. “We are also working on understanding which populations might be crucial to transmission, and how different policies that are being enacted are impacting the growth of the epidemic,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina. He said the Center is also developing new technologies and efforts to increase testing capacity.
March 20: Covid-19 and the Stiff Upper Lip — The Pandemic Response in the United Kingdom (The New England Journal of Medicine)
The United Kingdom’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak was marked at first by inaction, then by hesitant and sometimes vague action, wrote David Hunter in this Perspective piece. “Through the past few weeks, the U.K. mantra has been we will act at the appropriate time according to the science,” he wrote. “Many clinicians and scientists have been pushing the panic button, but the alarm, if heard, was not acted on publicly until the third week of March.”
March 20: Parenting During the Coronavirus Pandemic (NBCLX)
Children of all ages—even infants—could be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, because they can sense when a parent or caregiver is upset or worried, according to Archana Basu, research associate at Harvard Chan School and a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The key thing here is that, for each age, the information [about the coronavirus] has to be developmentally sensitive using age-appropriate language that is factual,” she said. She recommended limiting media exposure, engaging children in conversation to clear up misconceptions, and maintaining some familiar routines.
March 20: Physical Distance and Social Solidarity: Not Social Distancing! (Thrive Global)
Jane Kim and Karestan Koenen ask that people stop using the term “social distancing” and replace it with the more accurate “physical distancing.” They wrote, “To defeat COVID-19, we need physical distance and social solidarity.”
March 20: Why the push for a quick coronavirus vaccine could backfire (Politico)
Fast-tracking vaccines can backfire—because they can make people sicker. And if that happens, it could spur an anti-vaccine backlash. But to fight the coronavirus, the Trump administration has allowed one company to begin testing a potential vaccine on humans before doing the typical animal testing. Experts said that while the vaccines currently being developed for coronavirus may not be dangerous, their effects should still be fully studied. That’s because, “in contrast to drugs, vaccines are given only to healthy people,” said Barry Bloom. “We have to be enormously careful not to harm anyone.”
March 20: The U.K. backed off on herd immunity. To beat COVID-19, we’ll ultimately need it. (National Geographic)
“Herd immunity” is when enough people become immune to a disease—either through catching it or by being vaccinated—so that they don’t spread contagion, which then leads to a lower infection rate in the community. According to Yonatan Grad, herd immunity can only be reached when a precise proportion of a community becomes resistant to an infectious disease; in the case of COVID-19, experts think that proportion might be around 60%.
March 20: Could a New Test Identify Immunity? (Harvard Gazette)
Marc Lipsitch outlined ways to forge through the COVID-19 pandemic, and maybe get some people back to work. Serological testing, to help identify those who may have developed immunity to COVID-19, would be one important step, he said. “The value would be potentially tremendous if we had a workforce that was growing as the epidemic progressed that could safely go back into various jobs — including health care workers,” he said. Lipsitch’s recommendations were also covered in a Harvard Magazine article.
Virtual visits with your doctor will be the new normal during the coronavirus pandemic, wrote Michael Barnett and Asaf Bitton, executive director of AriadneLabs. They offered advice on how to safely access care in the weeks and months to come.
March 20: Prepare Now for the Long War Against Covid-19 (Bloomberg)
In this opinion piece, Marc Lipsitch and co-author Richard Danzig, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, wrote that it will be necessary to “wage a sustained war” against COVID-19. They listed a host of challenges and actions that need to be taken, such as reducing the burden on hospitals by establishing methods for home treatment, or by building temporary hospitals. They called for the production of huge quantities of ventilators and for ramped-up testing. They also said it’s crucial to ensure that other aspects of the U.S. infrastructure—such as food production and delivery, power distribution, telecommunication, drinking water, and transportation—be adequately maintained.
March 20: Call Trump’s News Conferences What They Are: Propaganda (New York Times)
In an opinion piece criticizing President Trump’s leadership regarding the coronavirus, columnist Jennifer Senior recommended that the public turn to other leaders, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for facts. She also said they should follow experts like Marc Lipsitch, one of “the many civic-minded epidemiologists and virologists and contagion experts on Twitter.”
March 19: The Truth about COVID-19 and the Next 18 Months (Factually! with Adam Conover)
Ashish Jha answered questions about COVID-19 on this podcast. Asked how long people will have to maintain social distancing in order to slow the spread of the disease, Jha said it’s hard to know, because the dearth of testing in the U.S. means it’s impossible to know how many infections there are. Once testing picks up to where it should be, disease hotspots will become evident and containment will be possible—which would make it safer to start relaxing social distancing, he said. “Until we start getting information about who’s sick and who’s not and how many people are sick, it’s very hard to know what to do next,” he said.
March 19: This Is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus (The Atlantic)
Maintaining social distancing will buy the U.S. time to beat COVID-19—time to ramp up testing and to strengthen the medical infrastructure—wrote Ashish Jha and co-author Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine, in The Atlantic. “We can make things better; it’s not too late. But we have to be willing to act,” they wrote.
As people avoid hospitals and doctors’ offices to slow the spread of coronavirus, they’re increasingly using telemedicine. Health policy expert Michael Barnett said that while the U.S. has been slow to embrace telemedicine until now, this may change as Americans become more accustomed to the technology.
March 19: Scaled-Down Labs Felt ‘This Special Responsibility’ (Harvard Gazette)
Research in a tuberculosis lab led by Sarah Fortune has come to stop, part of an effort across Harvard to stop or slow work in labs in order to de-densify the University to lower the risk of infection from coronavirus. In Fortune’s lab, researchers must wear N95 masks and full-body protection suits—and they decided to donate that gear to local health care clinics to use as coronavirus cases continue to mount. “We have this special responsibility to share our personal protective equipment with health care workers,” said Fortune. “We all feel like if we—especially us who understand so clearly what this could be—don’t really fully make hard sacrifices, then how could we ask anybody else in our community to do that?”
March 19: You Can Help Break the Chain of Transmission (New York Times)
Epidemiologists William Hanage and Helen Jenkins of Boston University, who are married, used tree diagrams to explain how limiting contacts with others can help prevent many coronavirus infections. They said that simple interventions, such as working from home, can have an exponential effect and can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of disease.
March 19: Understanding China’s coronavirus numbers (PRI’s “The World”)
It’s good news that China is reporting no new locally-transmitted cases of coronavirus, only new infections that originated outside the country, said Winnie Yip, professor of the practice of international health policy and economics and director of the Harvard China Health Partnership. While China is encouraging people to return to work gradually, “the whole country is still under vigilance” to make sure there’s not a second wave of infection, she said. As for how the coronavirus might spread in the U.S., Yip said that, “at least for some parts of the country … [the U.S.] may be reaching a situation that is similar to the northern parts of Italy in a few weeks’ time.”
March 19: An Epidemiologist Answers Your Coronavirus Questions (WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show)
In this radio interview, epidemiologist Caroline Buckee answered listeners’ questions about coronavirus.
March 19: How to Keep Your Distance (New York Times)
This article—which outlines the differences between concepts like “social distancing,” “self-monitoring,” and “self-quarantine”—quoted Asaf Bitton, executive director of AriadneLabs, who recently wrote a piece called “Social Distancing: This Is Not a Snow Day.” Bitton said he wrote the article after schools and businesses had shut down to slow the spread of coronavirus—and he looked out of his office window to see a park full of people. “I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ Why did we close the schools if we’re going to shift social contact from the schools to the playground?” he said. In his article, he stressed the importance of “making daily choices to stay away from each other as much as possible.” Bitton also offered advice on social distancing for families in a March 17 blog co-authored with Dan Schwarz, director of primary health care at Ariadne Labs.
In spite of a lack of good data on many aspects of the COVID-19 epidemic, it’s essential to keep up with social distancing, because “waiting and hoping for a miracle as health systems are overrun … is not an option,” wrote Marc Lipsitch. Lipsitch’s op-ed came in response to a recent op-ed by another epidemiologist that seemed to suggest that, until data are more certain, taking drastic actions might not be the wisest course of action to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Lipsitch contended, however, that “we know enough to act; indeed, there is an imperative to act strongly and swiftly.”
March 18: U.S. still ‘doing poorly’ on coronavirus testing, Harvard epidemiologist says (PRI’s “The World”)
With COVID-19 testing still limited in the U.S., “social distancing is absolutely the way that we will control and reduce the transmission of this virus in the population,” said Michael Mina. Mina also discussed topics such as how much to worry about contamination from surfaces, and the challenges with ramping up coronavirus testing.
Experts say that healthy people should stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of coronavirus. Ariadne Labs director Asaf Bitton acknowledged that the emphasis on social distancing is “extreme because what we’re asking [Americans] to do really has never been done at scale across our country, certainly in our lifetimes.” He also said that, to reduce confusion, there should be a coordinated public response at all levels of government.
March 18: U.S. Coronavirus Testing Starts To Ramp Up But Still Lags (NPR)
Demand for coronavirus testing in the U.S. still outstrips availability, say experts. Not knowing who’s infected makes it difficult for health officials to make informed decisions on how best to treat patients, spot new outbreaks early, and decide where to focus resources. Said Michael Mina, “The testing capacity remains extraordinarily limited compared to where we should be. And in many ways we are absolutely flying blind at the moment.”
March 18: How To Prepare For Coronavirus If You Live By Yourself & Are Going It Alone (Elite Daily)
People who live alone, even if healthy, should take the same precautions against the coronavirus that the CDC recommends for everyone, to minimize their own risk as well as the risk of spreading the virus to others, said Rachael Piltch-Loeb. “The risk or the effect of coronavirus on a generally healthy young adult is pretty low, but the reality is that we come in contact [with]—and we can spread this virus really easily to—plenty of other people,” she said.
March 18: Is it safe – and ethical – to order food online during the coronavirus outbreak? (The Guardian)
People who deliver takeout food may face a high risk of exposure to the coronavirus and need to be careful, said infectious disease expert Thomas Tsai. “If we can minimize unnecessary food delivery, we should,” he said. Tsai’s advice for those who order takeout is to wash their hands before opening containers and to wipe down some of the exterior surfaces on packaging. As for the food itself, he said early evidence suggests the virus is inactivated by heat, so should be safe.
March 18: The Coming Coronavirus Critical-Care Emergency (New Yorker)
Will the U.S. have enough capacity to care for growing numbers of critically ill coronavirus patients? A Wuhan-like outbreak could overwhelm many American I.C.U.s, according to research by epidemiology doctoral student Ruoran Li, Marc Lipsitch, and colleagues. Also, a recent analysis from the Harvard Global Health Institute, the New York Times, and ProPublica found that, in a “moderate” scenario, hospitals in 40% of American markets wouldn’t have enough room for all patients with COVID-19, even if the beds were emptied of all other patients.
It’s essential right now to decrease the risk of transmission of the coronavirus—to spread out the number of infected individuals over time, according to infectious disease expert Thomas Tsai. “The problem is, if we don’t do that, then there’s an increased demand that is going to outstrip the supply of hospital beds and, most critically, mechanical ventilators and [Intensive Care Unit] beds,” he said. Tsai worked on an analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute of the availability of hospital beds around the country.
March 17: Top Doctor Calls For National Quarantine (MSNBC)
Testing for the coronavirus is still “way behind the curve in terms of where we need to be,” according to Ashish Jha. As of March 17 there were roughly 4,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., but experts suspect that the actual numbers are in the 30,000 to 40,000 range. “Our hospitals and our emergency rooms are not ready,” Jha said. He outlined two choices: “We can either have a national quarantine now—two weeks—get a grip on where things are and then reassess. Or we can not, wait another week, and when things look really terrible, be forced into it, and that’s going to last much longer. Many more people will die.”
March 17: DIY nasal swabs, drive-thrus and labs in overdrive: Americans are desperate for more coronavirus testing (Washington Post)
Testing for the coronavirus in the U.S. is still far behind where it should be. Some clinicians and individuals have begun skirting FDA rules regarding testing to fill in the gap. And many health facilities are limiting testing to those with clear symptoms of COVID-19 to conserve limited supplies of test kits and protective gear. “If you get large-scale testing such that everyone could do it, we could have a much better sense of the scale of the problem,” said epidemiologist William Hanage.
March 17: Panic is spreading like the coronavirus. Here’s why we evolved to feel anxiety (National Geographic)
The coronavirus crisis has led to “panic buying”—people stockpiling supplies like hand wipes, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. “When you’re seeing extreme responses, it’s because people feel like their survival is threatened and they need to do something to feel like they’re in control,” said Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology.
March 17: How To Practice Social Distancing (New Yorker)
Social distancing—avoiding close contact with people outside your immediate family, and also certain public spaces—will help curb the spread of the coronavirus, say experts. In this Q&A, Ariadne Labs director Asaf Bitton offers details about what exactly social distancing means and what it doesn’t mean. He admits, “I get that it is uncomfortable, and I want people to get more comfortable being uncomfortable for a while.”
March 17: Coronavirus Is Spreading. Should You Cancel Your Vacation? (New York Times)
Experts say everyone should be cautious about non-essential travel right now. People who face higher risk from COVID-19—elderly people, or those with underlying health conditions—should be particularly cautious. But even if you and your family are not in a high-risk category, if you travel you could infect others. “Now is the time where we actually do want to start thinking, ‘Well, do I really need to take that trip to go on vacation?’” said Michael Mina. “If it were me, I think I would probably try to decrease my risk as much as possible, and one way to do that is reducing travel.”
In order to minimize the number of deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. and to keep health care systems functioning, social distancing will be necessary for the entire population over a long period of time, according to a new analysis from Imperial College. Marc Lipsitch said that the take-home message of the analysis is that “we are going to have to have very tight controls in place on transmission through social distancing. And those controls are going to be so tight that they will be economically and socially very damaging.”
March 17: These Places Could Run Out of Hospital Beds as Coronavirus Spreads (New York Times)
New models developed by researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) and at Harvard Chan School project that, as the number of coronavirus patients increases in the U.S., the pressure on hospitals across the nation will vary dramatically. Many communities are not prepared for the COVID-19 patients expected to need care, according to Ashish Jha. “If we don’t make substantial changes, both in spreading the disease over time and expanding capacity, we’re going to run out of hospital beds,” he said. “And in that instance, we will not be able to take care of critically ill people, and people will die.”
March 17: Will COVID-19 Supply Telehealth Its Moment? (Managed Healthcare Executive)
Medicare has relaxed rules regarding telehealth because of the coronavirus. The new rules will make it easier for seniors to connect “virtually” with their doctors—thus reducing their risk of contracting the virus outside their homes. Experts say the changes could boost the use of telehealth. Health policy expert Michael Barnett cautioned that handling “edge cases” of COVID-19—when some symptoms suggest the possibility of the disease, but it’s unclear—will be difficult via telehealth. “It is going to be the gray area that is going to be the challenge,” he said.
March 17: Jury out on whether summer will tamp down coronavirus (Honolulu Star)
Experts aren’t sure if the spread of the coronavirus will slow down in warmer weather, even though other respiratory viruses like the flu are seasonal. Marc Lipsitch said there may be “modest declines” of COVID-19 transmission as the weather warms, but not enough “to make a big dent.” He noted that SARS-CoV-2 (the scientific name for the new coronavirus), “as a virus new to humans, will face less immunity and thus transmit more readily even outside of the winter season.”
March 17: Talking To Your Kids About Coronavirus (WBUR’s “Cognoscenti”)
In this commentary, Karestan Koenen and Archana Basu advise parents on how to communicate with children about the coronavirus pandemic: provide factual information use age-appropriate words, validate your children’s concerns, and support positive coping activities.
March 17: How Long Will the Coronavirus Outbreak and Shutdown Last? (Forbes)
Optimistically, the coronavirus outbreak could abate in about two months, say experts—if we can double down on social distancing. But many doctors and scientists say the focus shouldn’t be on wondering when the disruption to our lives will end, but on how to support the entire community through the crisis. “We need to change the conversation from: ‘How inconvenient it is to me?’ to ‘Who are the people who are suffering most, and how can we help them?’” said Sarah Fortune. “Think of it as a community service.”
March 17: In Coronavirus Testing Ramp-Up, U.S. Called Private Sector in Late (Bloomberg)
A faulty test for the coronavirus, strict regulations about who could be tested, and an initial unwillingness on the government’s part to seek help from the private sector are all factors that contributed to weeks of delay in implementing a significant level of testing for the virus in the U.S. Now experts think the pathogen could infect at least half of the country’s 329 million people, disrupt economic and personal activity for weeks or months, and cause the economy to go into recession. “This is such a rapidly moving infection that losing a few days is bad, and losing a couple of weeks is terrible,” said Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health and HGHI director. “Losing two months is close to disastrous, and that’s what we did.” He added, “The only shot we have, I believe, of staving off the worst is going to a national quarantine for 14 days.”
March 17: Public health experts, some lawmakers say Texas’ patchwork strategy to coronavirus response is a problem (Texas Tribune)
To help slow the spread of coronavirus, many U.S. states are ordering widespread closures of schools, bars, and restaurants, banning large public gatherings, and issuing travel restrictions. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is so far allowing cities, counties, school districts, and universities to develop their own responses to the virus. FXB Director Mary Bassett said this approach “makes people feel that they don’t really know what’s going on and that the people who are in charge don’t really know what’s going on.”
March 16: ‘Flatten The Curve’: How Social Distancing Can Slow The Spread Of Coronavirus (WBUR’s “On Point”)
William Hanage says it’s crucial to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus pandemic—to slow its rate of increase—so that the healthcare system doesn’t become overburdened. “We should be intervening now to try and make [the curve] less steep,” he said.
Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and other experts offered advice on when to seek medical care and how to protect the people you live with if you get symptoms of COVID-19. Good personal hygiene, especially handwashing, and social distancing are very important for preventing transmission, she said. If you think you have COVID-19, call your doctor, but stay home if you’re not in a high-risk category, to avoid exposing yourself to further risk or possibly infecting others at a hospital or clinic.
It’s unclear how long social distancing will have to continue to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “Unfortunately, the answer is not one most people want to hear: We don’t know,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “We’re not trying to come up with long-term plans to stop the pandemic. What we are doing now is trying to stop it from destroying us.” Yonatan Grad, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, noted that “the goal in social distancing efforts is to ‘flatten the curve’—slow the spread of the virus, decreasing the peak of the epidemic and hopefully thereby limiting the chance of overwhelming the healthcare system. But by slowing the spread of the virus, we extend the amount of time it circulates.”
March 16: How We Can Stop the Next New Virus (Washington Post)
Ending the trade in wild animals would greatly reduce the risk of another pandemic like the coronavirus, according to this op-ed co-authored by virologist Nathan Wolfe, AM ’97, SD ’99, and Jared Diamond, author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” That’s because emerging human diseases such as SARS, AIDS, and Ebola are animal diseases (“zoonoses”) that jumped to humans. SARS originated in a wild animal market in China, and it’s suspected that COVID-19 did too. China has now closed these markets, but the trade in live animals continues for the purposes of traditional medicine. Although using wild animal products is an important cultural practice in China, “the global threat from coronaviruses is too great,” the authors wrote. “China and other governments around the world must act quickly and decisively to end the wild animal trade. Unless that happens, we predict with confidence that covid-19 will not be the last viral pandemic.”
March 16: Coronavirus reality check: 7 myths about social distancing, busted (USA Today)
To slow the spread of coronavirus, it’s not just the elderly and others at high risk who need to stay away from crowded places and social gatherings—it’s everyone, because anyone can become infected and transmit the virus, wrote Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, in an op-ed. They pointed out other myths about social distancing—for example, the idea that doing it for a month or so may be enough to stop the epidemic permanently. “Unfortunately, we are in this for the long haul,” they wrote.
Several Harvard Chan School experts were named by Forbes as good experts to follow on Twitter during the coronavirus outbreak. They included Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI); Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics; and Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
March 14: Comprehensive Social Distancing Is Difficult and Necessary. Here’s How To Keep Your Family Safe (WBUR Cognoscenti)
In this commentary, Ariadne Labs director Asaf Bitton wrote that slowing the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic will require “widespread, uncomfortable and comprehensive social distancing.” That means shutting things down—schools, work, group gatherings, and public events—but also means no kid playdates, parties, sleepovers, or families and friends visiting each other’s houses and apartments. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent,” he wrote.
March 14: Amid dire predictions of virus spread, hospitals prepare to be inundated (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts hospitals are gearing up for what may be a huge influx of coronavirus patients. Ashish Jha said that more than 225,000 people in the state may need a hospital bed at some point, and about one-fifth of those, 45,000, might need to be in an intensive care unit. But the state has only about 3,600 hospital beds and 400 ICU beds at any given time, he estimated. Although Jha’s projections don’t account for social distancing measures now rolling out, he said, “the numbers are so staggering we have to do a lot better …. We are nowhere near ready and able to take care of people who get infected with coronavirus in the next year.”
March 14: What the world can learn from China’s coronavirus (Wired)
After an unprecedented quarantine, China was able to dramatically reduce the number of its coronavirus cases. Other countries might want to consider similar actions, say experts. “We should be canceling big public events,” said Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology. “There’s no question in my mind.” She added that South Korea’s response to the virus—mass testing—also provides an important lesson. “South Korea rolled out surveillance very quickly, including surveillance for people with milder symptoms, with measures like drive-through testing,” she said. “And those types of measures meant that they were able to really understand what happening with their epidemic.” Mass testing also helps impress upon the populace the disease’s seriousness, said Michael Mina. “South Korea banked on people changing their behavior as a result of massive testing,” he said. “And that has shown pretty extraordinary benefit to curbing an epidemic that was really roaring.”
March 13: Why our shrinking natural world is increasing the pace of global pandemics (Fast Company)
Human encroachment on the natural world raises the risk of pandemics, say experts. “We’re dismantling the living world at a rate that’s unprecedented in history,” said Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE). “We’ve got climate change, which is pushing every living thing that isn’t human to the poles, more or less, to get out of the heat …. And that creates the opportunity for viruses and bacteria to get into new species that they weren’t in before.”
March 13: COVID test debacle: ‘We hoped it would go away before it reached us’ (Harvard Gazette)
Experts say that Massachusetts may need 1.4 million tests for COVID-19 and have to conduct tens of thousands of tests every day—hundreds of times the current amount of daily testing. “The fundamental fact is … that we don’t focus on preparedness; we focus on reaction,” said Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “Every time, again and again, we wait. And there’s so many things that we could have in place so that we could move quickly.” Eric Rubin, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said, “There was a tsunami coming that we could see and we hoped that it would go away before it reached us.”
March 13: Harvard Drastically Scales Down Lab Research for Two Months Due to Outbreak (Harvard Crimson)
To help curtail the spread of coronavirus, research labs at Harvard are winding down to only essential functions for up to two months. At the same time, other labs, especially those focused on computation, are shifting their efforts to the coronavirus. Marc Lipsitch said researchers in his lab have launched more than 20 new coronavirus-related projects since the outbreak began, and are moving “twice as fast and twice as hard as usual.” Michael Mina, who also works at the CCDD, said that, because of the outbreak, researchers have a unique opportunity “to apply their expertise in real time.”
March 13: Puerto Rico Must Act Now to Stop the Coronavirus (Boston Globe)
In this opinion piece, epidemiologist Caroline Buckee wrote that a coronavirus outbreak in Puerto Rico could stress its health system to the point where people with health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer can’t get the care they need. “Puerto Rico is vulnerable,” wrote Buckee. “It, with assistance from the federal government, must establish surveillance, determine whether there is community transmission, and prepare its health system immediately.”
March 13: Harvard Health Professor Slams Trump’s ‘Catastrophic Failure’ On Coronavirus (Huffington Post)
Ashish Jha called the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic “among the very worst in the world.” He said that the testing failure in the U.S. is “really mind-boggling” and makes it hard to know how many people are infected, where the infections are, and how to respond. “I see this as just a catastrophic failure on the part of the federal government and the federal leadership,” he said.
March 13: A Healthy Person’s Guide to Staying Safe and Sane During COVID-19 (Rolling Stone)
Although a vaccine for COVID-19 is at least a year or more away, most young people, and almost all children, can be infected with the virus and be fine, according to Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. But even those whose risk is low, like college students, “can become amplifiers of viral transmission in the community,” she said. “There are obviously people in the community … who are much more vulnerable and who will not be fine because they’re old or immunocompromised or just unlucky.” She said everyone should take measures to slow the spread of disease. “We should be thinking to ourselves a little bit like the World War II mentality: One for all, all for one.”
March 12: Q&A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate (Inside Climate News)
Climate change can alter animals’ migration patterns, and bring more people in closer contact with animals that can spread diseases such as COVID-19, says Aaron Bernstein. In addition, air pollution—from burning fossil fuels, wood, agricultural waste, or from wildfires—makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections such as COVID-19, and can increase their risk of getting pneumonia. Unchanged: Climate change can alter animals’ migration patterns, and bring more people in closer contact with animals that can spread diseases such as COVID-19, says Aaron Bernstein. In addition, air pollution—from burning fossil fuels, wood, agricultural waste, or from wildfires—makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections such as COVID-19, and can increase their risk of getting pneumonia.
March 12: Coronavirus Causes Public School Closures in Many Mass. Communities (WGBH News)
As school districts across Massachusetts began temporary closures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Marc Lipsitch said that closing schools is a difficult decision because “what’s left of the American welfare state is so much channeled through schools …. We have lots of nutrition for children, plus mental health services. And then … there’s the problem that you lose essential workers from the workforce because they’re taking care of their kids.” But, he added, “If you were just going for disease control, you would close the schools because children do get infected.”
March 12: Vital challenge, for those always ready (Harvard Gazette)
In this Q&A, emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger described the massive public health challenge facing police, fire, and emergency medical responders from COVID-19. “First responders have some of the greatest risks of anyone in a community-wide infectious disease outbreak like this,” he said.
March 12: Severe shortage of tests blunts coronavirus response, Boston doctors say (Boston Globe)
Health officials in Massachusetts have been limiting who can be tested for the coronavirus, according to doctors and patients. On March 10, officials said the state would be able to increase its testing capacity from 50 to 200 per day. But based on South Korea’s success in slowing the virus with widespread testing, Massachusetts needs to be testing about 1,000 people per day for the next three months, according to Michael Mina. “We should be trying to test as much as possible and not just our clinically significant patients,” he said.
March 12: ‘Over-reacting is better than non-reacting’ – academics around the world share thoughts on coronavirus (World Economic Forum)
Dean Michelle Williams contributed to this article featuring insights from academics from the world’s leading universities on how COVID-19 is spreading and what measures should be taken to slow the spread. “Social distancing—successfully practiced by some cities during the influenza pandemic of 1918—is our current best defense against the cascading effects of COVID-19,” she said.
March 12: Covid-19 is rapidly spreading in America. The country does not look ready (Economist)
This article points out some of the reasons why America is struggling to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. One major problem—difficulties with rolling out testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus—means that many Americans may have undetected disease and are transmitting it to others. “In literal terms, we have no idea about the number of cases because nobody has tested to any meaningful extent,” said Marc Lipsitch. “Tens of thousands of cases in the US seems plausible.”
March 11: The interventions we must take to control the coronavirus (Boston Globe)
In this opinion piece, Marc Lipsitch discussed crucial steps for slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Reducing social contacts is key, he wrote. Large public gatherings such as conventions and sports events should be canceled or postponed, and people should work from home if possible and stay home when sick. Travel plans should be reconsidered. Handwashing and covering coughs are important. It may soon be necessary to consider other measures, such as suspending public transportation and closing houses of worship. “We are on the brink of experiencing a public health catastrophe,” he wrote. “The examples of Wuhan, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Iran should give us all a strong resolve to slow the epidemic before it is too late.”
March 11: ‘Worry about 4 weeks from now,’ epidemiologist warns (Harvard Gazette)
Marc Lipsitch said that the pace of coronavirus testing in the U.S. is “utterly inadequate” and “a debacle.” Because public health officials don’t know the true extent of the epidemic, they’re stymied in developing an effective response. He said it’s critical to expand social distancing measures such as canceling meetings, postponing conferences, working from home, and moving college classes online, which can help limit the spread of disease and ease the expected burden on the health care system.
March 11: Harvard’s Coronavirus Response Is Supported by History and Public Health (Harvard Crimson)
In this op-ed, three Harvard Chan School students acknowledged that Harvard’s decision to transition to online classes for the rest of the spring semester and to ask all undergraduates to move off-campus, to stem the spread of the coronavirus, places hardships on students. They urged the University to support students who may not have a safe home to go back to or who face financial or travel issues. “But ultimately,” they wrote, “we commend the University for taking decisive and appropriate public health actions toward reducing the spread of COVID-19.”
“Social distancing”—avoiding close contact with others—is an important way to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to experts. They recommend taking steps like canceling concerts, conferences, and other large events; avoiding public transportation at rush hour; and working from home even if you don’t feel sick. “The key thing is to reduce contact between people, and that’s especially true for vulnerable people,” said Marc Lipsitch. Ashish Jha recommended that hospitals prioritize keeping their doctors and nurses healthy and safe, consider expanding capacity by opening “moth-balled” wings, and canceling elective surgeries. Jha said he expects months—not weeks—of mitigation measures. “I think we are in for a very tough year,” he said. “I think this is gonna consume a large chunk of 2020.”
March 11: Seniors are the most vulnerable to coronavirus. You can help protect them. (Washington Post)
To help protect older generations from getting infected with the novel coronavirus, experts recommend respecting nursing home rules such as lockdowns and rethinking care plans for loved ones. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, suggested checking on elderly neighbors, helping them stave off loneliness by introducing them to technology such as FaceTime or WhatsApp, and making sure to practice good hand hygiene habits when visiting them.
March 11: Coronavirus may have a seasonal cycle, but that doesn’t mean it will go away this summer, experts warn (Washington Post)
Although a new study suggests that the coronavirus spreads most readily along an east-west band of the globe where average temperatures are between 41 and 52 degrees and average humidity levels are between 50% and 80%, some experts say that so little is known about the virus that it’s impossible to link its spread to weather alone. For example, a preprint of a study by Marc Lipsitch and colleagues found that the coronavirus could spread across a range of temperature and humidity levels.
March 11: Combating coronavirus starts with keeping health workers well (Fortune)
The coronavirus is taking a tremendous toll on the world’s public health workforce, wrote Michelle Williams, dean of Harvard Chan School, and Ariana Huffington in this commentary. They urged a focus on maintaining the holistic well-being of health workers by emphasizing healthy habits surrounding sleep, physical activity, nutrition, and stress management.
U.S. testing for the coronavirus is ramping up. But there are shortages for some of the kits and chemical components needed for the testing. Marc Lipsitch said that some labs are borrowing components from colleagues who have similar kits for testing unrelated to COVID-19. “What we need is a lot more testing, right now,” he said, but test kits and components “are in very short supply.” In a March 10 STAT article about the same topic, Michael Mina called the shortages “a very big problem.”
March 10: As Americans Take Virus Precautions, Trump Flouts Advice (AP)
Avoiding crowds and handshaking are two ways to reduce the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. But President Trump has continued to shake people’s hands and attend large events. Public health experts say Trump is potentially putting the public at risk by sowing confusion about what’s safe and what isn’t. Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis, said that Trump appears to be motivated by protecting the economy in an election year. “He’s trying to do everything he can to protect the economy by saying, ‘It will be over,’ ‘It’s not that bad,’ ‘Feel free to go places,’” Blendon said. But “if it turns out to be more serious, the president’s contributing to people not protecting themselves.”
If Massachusetts experiences an onslaught of COVID-19 patients, hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed, said Ashish Jha. Hospitals may have to cancel elective surgeries, convert operating rooms into ICUs, and set up ambulatory surgical centers, he said. But trying to slow the spread of disease by social distancing—moving university classes online, encouraging people to work from home, and canceling large gatherings—could help blunt the impact on hospitals, he said.
March 10: Social distancing could buy U.S. valuable time against coronavirus (Washington Post)
Public health experts say that social distancing—canceling conferences, avoiding crowded public transportation, postponing weddings—could help slow the spread of coronavirus by preventing infected people from coming into close contact with healthy ones, thus breaking potential chains of transmission. “Slowing [the coronavirus] down matters because it prevents the health service becoming overburdened,” said William Hanage. “We have a limited number of beds; we have a limited number of ventilators; we have a limited number of all the things that are part of supportive care that the most severely affected people will require.” Marc Lipsitch noted that an outbreak like the one that occurred in Wuhan, China—which peaked quickly—“would fill our ICU beds” in the U.S. with coronavirus cases.
March 10: If you can work from home, you should. Now. (Washington Post)
In an opinion piece, William Hanage wrote that “working from home, if your job allows it,” will help stop the spread of the coronavirus. “Viruses spread on networks,” he wrote. “They rely upon the ways in which we get together and allow infected folks to transmit unknowingly to everyone else. If we can stop that, we stop the epidemic. We just need to cut the links and suffocate the virus.” And, in a March 9 article in the Guardian, Hanage said that “even if [working from home] won’t protect you entirely, it will delay you getting infected. And if we can ‘flatten the curve’ we will avoid the worst consequences for healthcare services.”
March 9: Is it really a good idea to close schools to fight coronavirus? (Washington Post)
Closing schools to minimize the spread of coronavirus may not be a good idea unless someone on campus is diagnosed, say public health experts. That’s because there are negative consequences to closing schools. Many parents can’t stay home with their children, and children will congregate outside school if there are no classes. And when parents do stay home to care for children, it disrupts the workforce—including much-needed health care workers. Said Marc Lipsitch of school closings, “We don’t know if that’s an important control measure or if it’s just a very expensive, costly and disruptive control measure.”
March 9: Seattle’s Patient Zero Spread Coronavirus Despite Ebola-Style Lockdown (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Missed opportunities in tamping down the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle—like a lack of testing and not enough precautions taken at hospitals to prevention infection—led to the Seattle area having the most severe known U.S. outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. More outbreaks have occurred in other states. Marc Lipsitch estimated that for every dozen coronavirus cases the U.S. caught, it may have missed 20 or 25. “It may be, for example, that Seattle got unlucky and had an early introduction that did take off into a chain of transmission, and other places that did nothing different might have had better luck,” he said. “It’s quite possible that we’ll see some places with lots of cases once we start testing.”
March 9: Expert: Having A Plan For Coronavirus Threat Will Lower Panic (CBS Boston)
How best to prepare for the coronavirus? “Be prudent, don’t panic,” said Eric McNulty, associate director for the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and associate director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative. “Take this as one of the things in life that may be a bit of adversity. But it’s not the end of the world.” He advised: Make sure you have enough prescription medications and food, including staple items that will last on the shelf and treats like chocolate; think about how you will handle child care if schools or day cares close; have enough food for your pets; and reach out to neighbors, particularly the elderly.
March 9: Daily Comment: Trump in the Time of the Coronavirus (New Yorker)
Physicians and public health officials say that President Trump’s public comments downplaying the severity of the new coronavirus have been misleading—such as saying on Jan. 22 that the U.S. has it “totally under control.” Michael Mina said, “We need the President to put the well-being of the American people before his reelection. And that requires open discussion and accurate information so that we can … condition people to what’s coming next, not to pretend that this is not a serious threat and they should just continue life as usual.” Mina said that Trump “can say all the words he wants, but that won’t change the biology of this virus, which will spread unabated unless we take the proper steps.” Marc Lipsitch said, “It is just false and unproductive to say that things are under control.”
March 9: Virus data from Korea ‘to be of great value globally’ (Korea Herald)
In a Q&A about the new coronavirus, Marc Lipsitch, discussed topics such as how the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19, affects different age groups; the severity of the disease; whether COVID-19 will become a seasonal illness; estimated infection rates; and the balance between disease control and economic harms from containment measures. Lipsitch also discussed the coronavirus on Seoul, South Korea’s SBS 8 News on March 6.
March 8: To Prepare for Coronavirus, Simple Measures Are Often Most Effective (Usable Knowledge, Harvard Graduate School of Education)
A proven way to prevent the spread of disease is to frequently wash your hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds, says Marc Lipsitch. Experts say that schools can encourage handwashing, ensure there’s plenty of soap, paper towels, and hot water in restrooms, and educate students about the importance of handwashing for long-term health. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, said that focusing on prevention along with education can help stem the spread of disease and benefit students. “All of these critical measures can support young people as they learn not only to protect themselves but also their communities in the midst of a global public health crisis,” he said. “We need their action and commitment to become the prevention advocates of the future.”
March 7: How Deadly Is Coronavirus? What We Know and What We Don’t (New York Times)
In spite of a World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that the new coronavirus’ death rate is 3.4%, experts say it’s more likely about 1%. WHO’s estimate measures only the “case fatality rate”—a statistic that takes into account only reported cases of an illness. A more accurate statistic—the “infection fatality rate,” which includes everyone infected—will be available only after the coronavirus spreads more widely. Marc Lipsitch said that the infection fatality rate “is essential for understanding how big our response should be. All responses have costs. If we think the risk is higher, then we should be willing to tolerate bigger costs, more inconvenience and the mental health loss from social distancing.” Ashish Jha said of WHO’s death rate estimate, “When I looked at the 3.4 percent number and where they got it, I thought this is both wrong and irrelevant.”
Michael Mina called the new coronavirus “the most daunting virus that we’ve contended with in half a century or more.” The virus causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. There are no treatments for it yet and people don’t have immunity to it. Mina said the fragmented U.S. health care system leaves him worried about the cohesion of a response.
March 6: Opinion: Why it’s so hard to pin down the risk of dying from coronavirus (Washington Post)
Although the World Health Organization stated on March 3 that 3.4% of people with reported COVID-19 infections worldwide had died, that figure took into account only reported infections—which is why, according to Marc Lipsitch, that the death rate from coronavirus is actually impossible to pinpoint right now. We don’t have a good handle on how many people are infected, and we don’t know how many will eventually die, he said. “The coronavirus infection-fatality rate—the number everybody wants to know—is still undetermined,” he wrote.
March 6: Opinion: Testing for the coronavirus might have stopped it. Now it’s too late (Washington Post)
“We just twiddled our thumbs as the coronavirus waltzed in,” wrote epidemiologist William Hanage. While some other countries have rolled out tests for the virus on a massive scale, the U.S. lagged behind, he said. “As a result, outbreaks here are likely to be more numerous and more difficult to control than they would have been otherwise,” Hanage wrote. “If you don’t test, you cannot know where [the virus] is spreading. And if you don’t know where it is spreading, you cannot mount an effective response.”
March 6: Former FDA chief & Harvard professor: Take smart steps to slow spread of coronavirus (USA Today)
In an opinion piece, Marc Lipsitch and Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, wrote about steps people can take to protect themselves from the coronavirus as well as slow its spread to others. They recommended keeping up to date on vaccines, hand-washing, covering coughs, and fist-bumping instead of shaking hands. Schools and workplaces should make sure they have adequate facilities for hand-washing, including hot water, soap, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Workplaces should be flexible about people working from home, and should carefully monitor food handling practices.
March 6: In Anticipation of Coronavirus Spread, University Takes Precautions and Plans to Respond (Harvard Crimson)
As Harvard University makes contingency plans to prepare for the spread of coronavirus, one Harvard Chan School expert, Michael Mina, said it would be good for the university to switch large classes to online learning platforms, sooner rather than later. Both Mina and Caroline Buckee said that lack of access to coronavirus testing means that the spread of disease in the Boston-area is likely more widespread than has been reported. Leonard Marcus, lecturer on public health practice at Harvard Chan School and co-director of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, said that if someone at Harvard is diagnosed with the virus, epidemiologists would do “contact tracing”—figuring out who that person had recently been in contact with. “Those who have been exposed then will be asked to quarantine for two weeks,” he said.
March 6: Just How Many People Are Infected With Coronavirus? (Wall Street Journal)
Experts don’t know how many people are infected with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, because many of those infections have not been detected. Although more than 100,000 cases have been confirmed, that number doesn’t account for people who are asymptomatic, said James Hay, a postdoctoral research fellow. “The number including those without symptoms or with mild symptoms is likely to be higher than that,” he said.
March 5: Coronavirus is not killing 3.4% of patients. How the rate got inflated and why it will get lower. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
On March 3, the World Health Organization said that the death rate for coronavirus is 3.4%, by dividing the number of deaths (3,112) at that point by the number of confirmed patients (90,870). But experts say it’s too early to calculate an accurate rate, because there may be many people who are infected but haven’t yet been tested. “You get an unfairly high estimate of the severity and the case fatality risk,” said Marc Lipsitch. Health officials will have a better sense of the death rate over the next few months, with the help of a blood test that detects antibodies to the virus.
March 5: How to reduce the spread of coronavirus (Harvard Gazette)
Wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, avoid touching your face, and stay home if you’re sick—these are the best and simplest ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, say health experts. Since germs wind up on surfaces such as desks, handrails, or doorknobs, “good hand washing really matters,” said emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger. “Most people don’t wash their hands very well. As silly as it sounds to go watch a YouTube video on handwashing, people should do it to learn how to do it properly.”
March 5: Politicians Are The Last People Americans Want Fighting Coronavirus (FiveThirtyEight)
The more the coronavirus epidemic becomes politicized—for example, by President Trump claiming that criticism of his administration’s response to the outbreak represented a Democratic hoax—the less likely the public is to trust government officials to provide accurate information about the outbreak, according to pollster Robert Blendon. In general, politicians are uniquely unsuited to be at the forefront of a public health crisis because many people mistrust them, he said. But there’s a silver lining, he added: While Americans may not trust “the government,” they trust specific parts of the government more, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s public health agency.
March 4: Your Building Can Make You Sick or Keep You Well (New York Times)
In an opinion piece, Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, wrote that buildings can help reduce the spread of pathogens like the new coronavirus, through proper ventilation, filtration, and humidity. Read more.
A coronavirus vaccine is at least a year away, according to Massachusetts public health officials. Boston-area doctors say it could take even longer, possibly 18-24 months. “That is under the assumption that the vaccine works biologically,” said Michael Mina. “Biology does not play with us very well, as we’ve noticed, we don’t have vaccines for very, very many viruses.”
March 4: Coronavirus screening may miss two-thirds of infected travelers entering U.S. (Harvard Gazette)
Recent modeling suggests that most countries’ screening procedures for travelers miss two-thirds of people with COVID-19 symptoms, according to epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. This could explain the recent cluster of COVID-19 cases in Washington, where 10 people have died. And it means there could be hundreds of cases around the U.S. “The problem with giving a firm number … is that there’s a lot of randomness in whether a particular case does or doesn’t spark a chain of transmission,” he said.
Experts have been using computer modeling to simulate how the coronavirus outbreak might evolve and how best to fight it. They’re eager for more information, such as how many people are infected without symptoms and how easily they can spread the virus. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch cautioned that it’s unclear how good the models will be in projecting the outbreak because the quality of the data is uncertain. But even without perfect data, models can help policymakers consider possible scenarios, he said. “It’s really that models help you think about things, rather than that they tell you things for sure that you didn’t know,” he said.
March 3: So how bad is coronavirus in U.S.? We don’t know yet (Harvard Gazette)
Marc Lipsitch and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, discussed COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, at an evening panel on March 2 sponsored by the China Health Partnership and moderated by the partnership’s head, Winnie Yip. Bloom said that while all epidemics eventually end, “speed is of the essence [in quelling them] and in all the major epidemics I’m aware of in modern times, nobody acted quickly enough.” Lipsitch said that U.S. national testing has been very slow and is likely masking the true extent of the epidemic here. Earlier in the day, Lipsitch discussed COVID-19’s spread as part of a Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health panel.
General health maintenance is important to help weather the coronavirus, according to Marc Lipsitch. “Quit smoking, if you smoke — that’s a good recommendation at all times, but maybe some people will use this as extra motivation,” he said. To get ready for the possibility of staying home for a while if you get sick, or because you’re asked to stay home, buy supplies you might need for the next month or so, he suggested. And, because pandemics are scary, “It helps to be a little psychologically prepared for the possibility that life will be very different for a period of time,” he said.
March 2: What You Need To Know About The Coronavirus (WBUR)
There are a lot of unknowns about the coronavirus, so people should be ready to adapt, according to Leonard Marcus. “Just look to China and imagine what it would be like to live in Wuhan, where that was the center of the cases and people were asked to stay in their homes for weeks,” he said. He recommended stocking up on essentials such as food, medicine, and personal items, enough to last about two to three weeks.
March 2: Infectious disease expert answers viewer questions about coronavirus (Fox News “Bill Hemmer Reports”)
It appears that coronavirus will not be containable, and it will be one-and-a-half to two years before a vaccine is available, according to Marc Lipsitch. So the focus should be on measures to take as a society and as individuals to protect ourselves, he said. “As a society, the more we slow it down, the fewer people will ultimately get it, and in fact, if you’re going to get it, it’s better to get it a long time from now, because we will know more about how to treat it,” he said. “And also, if we spread out the impact, it will reduce the burden on the health care systems.”
March 2: Coronavirus may infect up to 70% of world’s population, expert says (CBS News)
According to Marc Lipsitch, 40% to 70% of the world’s adult population could become infected with the new coronavirus, and of those, 1% could die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. (In a later tweet, Lipsitch revised his estimates downward, to 20% to 60% of adults becoming infected.) As of March 2, the coronavirus death toll topped 3,000 worldwide, with nearly 90,000 cases. “If it really does spread as widely as that projection says, and that’s what I think is likely to happen, then there are going to be millions of people dying,” he said. He added, “I think it is now almost inevitable that this will transmit in a global fashion and take a big toll on essentially the entire globe.”
March 2: China gets ‘mixed report card’ in its coronavirus response. How will the US do? (Live Science)
In the U.S., the biggest challenge in dealing with the coronavirus “will come down to the challenge of leadership,” according to Eric McNulty. He thinks the U.S. has a lot of expertise in the scientific and operational realms. But he said it would be a mistake to downplay the seriousness of the virus or make it into a political issue. Sharing fact-based guidelines with businesses, organizations, schools and individuals is key so that they can make informed decisions about how to protect themselves and others, he said.