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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. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories from May 2020 in which they offer comments and context:
May 31: Will Protests Set Off a Second Viral Wave? (New York Times)
Mayors, public health experts, and others are worried that protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis and over other instances of police brutality will cause a surge in coronavirus outbreaks. HGHI director Ashish Jha noted that more than half of coronavirus infections are spread by people who are asymptomatic, and said that arresting, transporting, or jailing protestors could increase the spread of the virus. He urged protestors to refrain from violence and for police to exercise restraint.
May 31: How a decade of privatisation and cuts exposed England to coronavirus (The Guardian)
This article describes how, in the UK, an infrastructure that was once in place to respond to public health crises was fractured, and in some places demolished, over the past decade. Commenting on the limited COVID-19 testing and tracing capacity of the agency tasked with overseeing the response to the outbreak, epidemiologist William Hanage said, “I am sure that the people involved in this programme worked incredibly hard, and I have the utmost respect for them, tasked with doing this in the face of a global pandemic,” he said. “But it beggars belief to see these numbers held up as adequate.”
May 30: COVID-19 deaths top 1,000 in Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Although overall cases of COVID-19 are decreasing across the U.S., the decline is driven by a falloff in places like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, while cases are rising in other places such as Minnesota. Epidemiologist William Hanage said he expects a “kind of stuttering outbreak” moving forward. “Going by the experience of other outbreaks and other pandemics of this kind, I would expect it to be playing out over the next few years with the most important period being the fall and winter of this year, but potentially starting before that,” he said.
May 30: Remember Lake of the Ozarks party pics? Many other places boomed Memorial Day (USA Today)
People crowded into various vacation spots in the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. Experts said the holiday travel could lead to fresh outbreaks in resort towns. Even day trips could have an impact, said epidemiologist William Hanage. “Movements from places where we know there’s a high population prevalence to a low give the opportunity to introduce [COVID-19] where it’s currently not common,” he said.
Experts say that scientists, not politicians, should be the primary spokespeople when there’s a public health crisis. But during the coronavirus pandemic, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the premier public health agency in the U.S., have been noticeably absent. Other experts have stepped in to fill the void, including epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch and HGHI director Ashish Jha. Jha said he’s been doing several television appearances every day to help provide guidance, although he’d prefer a government spokesperson. “I hear all the time from people that they don’t know who to turn to or who to trust,” he said. “There’s no glory in it … we are filling in for the federal government’s communication gap.”
May 30: The virus’s tale (Boston Globe)
This article traced the path of the coronavirus through Massachusetts from its first known appearance in the state in early March, describing how elected officials, bureaucrats, health care workers, and researchers responded to the devastating crisis. Among those featured in the article was epidemiologist Michael Mina, who had warned early on about the arrival of the coronavirus in the state.
May 29: Study: COVID-19 cases higher than state’s count (The Salem News)
Howard Koh was quoted.
May 29: CDC revises death rate estimate, but experts divided on meaning (Galveston County Daily News)
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised downward their projections for how many people in Galveston County might become infected with the coronavirus and die during the pandemic, epidemiologist William Hanage warned against relying too heavily on any one projection. He said that modeling any infectious disease is extremely difficult.
May 29: Cambridge tests for Covid-19 more than most, but resident demand is weaker than expected (Cambridge Day)
May 29: CDC chief defends failure to spot early coronavirus spread in U.S. (Washington Post)
Although Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield told reporters on May 28 that widespread diagnostic testing earlier in the coronavirus pandemic wouldn’t have made much difference—it would have been like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said—some experts disagreed. Epidemiologist William Hanage said that officials shouldn’t simply wait for the needles “to replicate themselves until they are the haystack.” He added, “Surveillance at the time was wholly inadequate to the task of catching a pandemic virus of this sort.”
May 29: Its Coronavirus Caseload Soaring, India Is Reopening Anyway (New York Times)
Experts fear that the coronavirus lockdown in India has been lifted prematurely and that cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, will surge. “From a public health point of view, I do think the lockdown has brought the disease under control,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “But of course, as restrictions have lifted in the last week or 10 days, the number of cases has started to rise quickly.”
Experts say it will take more people, more money, and more cooperation than the U.S. currently has in place to use contact tracing to suppress COVID-19 to manageable levels. “It’s clear that you can do a lot of control if you do contact tracing really well,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. But he added that if there are too many cases, or if cases can’t be identified quickly enough, “it’s easy to overwhelm a relatively constrained group of people.”
May 28: Op-ed: Is Zoom good for your health? (Orlando Sentinel)
“Our forced dependency on managing via video meetings … has plusses and minuses,” according this op-ed co-authored by program manager Leila Roumani and John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami Herbert Business school and former professor of health policy and management at Harvard Chan School.
May 28: Biden’s Testing Strategy Sets Up a Clear Contrast With Trump on the Coronavirus (New York Times)
May 28: COVID-19 mortality link to air pollution (Frontiers)
In this podcast, Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, discusses her recent research linking COVID-19 mortality to air pollution—specifically, small increases in levels of fine particulate matter.
May 28: Why Are Some Countries Doing Better Than Others? (NPR)
May 28: Healthy Buildings – we take a look at the strategies needed as businesses reopen (Chicago WGN)
In this radio interview, healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen talked about the steps employers can take to ensure their buildings are healthy and safe when workers return amid the coronavirus pandemic.
May 28: Questions And Anxiety Mount Over COVID-19 Workplace Safety As More Businesses Reopen (Ohio Valley ReSource)
May 28: Hundreds of AI solutions proposed for pandemic, but few are proven (MedCity News)
Researchers have been using machine learning algorithms to analyze data for clues about COVID-19, to identify potential treatments for the disease, to screen patients, or to identify those at high risk. But experts say it’s unclear if these algorithms are effective. “I’ve heard a lot of hype about machine learning being applied to battling COVID-19, but I haven’t seen very many concrete examples where you could imagine in the short- or medium-term something that is going to have a substantial effect,” said John Quackenbush, Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and chair of the Department of Biostatistics.
May 28: Is it safe to travel now? It depends. (National Geographic)
Experts shared best practices for traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. Joseph Allen, an expert in exposure assessment, was quoted on staying safe during air travel and while visiting national parks.
As the UK eases its lockdown, a resurgence of COVID-19 is likely, wrote David Hunter, Richard Doll Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine, University of Oxford, and Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention, Emeritus at Harvard Chan School, in this op-ed. He recommended limiting the size of indoor gatherings, using face masks, improving testing and contact tracing, and minimizing travel from one part of the country to another.
May 28: Rising ICU bed use ‘a big red flag’ (Politico)
Intensive care unit beds are filling up with COVID-19 patients in various spots around the U.S., such as Montgomery, Ala, Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Omaha, Neb., and the state of Rhode Island, according to health officials. Emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger said, “Our greatest fear about not being able to blunt the peak of illness, not being able to flatten the curve, is that … people will be exposed to the virus, become ill and potentially die because too many people became sick too quickly and it overwhelmed the health care system.”
May 28: Op-ed: We Can Go Farther Together (The Crimson)
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of leveraging the benefits of globalization, drawing on the full diversity of global experience and leadership, and building new public-private partnerships to generate resources and new ideas, wrote HGHI director Ashish Jha in this op-ed.
May 28: How Covid-19 Really Spreads (Elemental)
COVID-19 can likely be spread in a variety of ways—through infected surfaces, airborne plumes, air conditioning systems, toilet flushes, and close proximity to others. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen was quoted.
Some experts think that analyzing wastewater to detect the coronavirus might give communities a way to spot rebounds in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, was quoted.
May 28: The World Is Still Far From Herd Immunity for Coronavirus (New York Times)
Several new studies suggest that the percentage of people who have been infected so far with the coronavirus is in the single digits. That means that herd immunity—the threshold at which the disease no longer spreads widely, which experts think is likely to be higher than 60%—is a long way off. “We don’t have a good way to safely build [herd immunity] up, to be honest, not in the short term,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina. “Unless we’re going to let the virus run rampant again—but I think society has decided that is not an approach available to us.”
May 27: How COVID-19 Made a Harvard Epidemiologist Into a Public Ambassador for Science (The Crimson)
Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has emerged as a leading researcher and prominent communicator over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he took a long and winding path into the field of epidemiology, according to this profile.
Experts say India could face a new COVID-19 surge as restrictions are lifted and people begin to move about the country again amid an already growing number of cases of the disease. Said Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, “You deny the right of people to move when the cases are few, and you allow them to do so when the epidemic is rising. I cannot imagine a more insane policy.”
May 27: We Don’t Know What’s Behind the COVID-19 Racial Disparity. And That’s a Problem. (The Atlantic)
It’s crucial to tease out the reasons why COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting black Americans, say experts. “As scientists, we have to talk about these disparities,” said research scientist Jarvis Chen. “But we can’t stop there, because we’ve seen what happens: People get demonized, and nonwhite people get pathologized. We have to be able to find the underlying factors. That’s the only way to do responsible science.”
May 27: Opinion: Here’s why Warren Buffett made a huge mistake selling his airline stocks (MarketWatch)
Epidemiologist Michael Mina was quoted.
May 27: COVID-19 here to stay till 2021, warn health experts (Live Mint)
May 27: Yes, You Develop Some Immunity to Covid-19. The Question Is, How Much? (Elemental)
Experts agree that people who have been infected with the coronavirus develop some level of immunity. “I feel like this isn’t going to be the virus that breaks the immunology textbook,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina. “How durable that immunity ends up being and how protective it ends up being, that’s what we need to figure out. But we absolutely know that this virus leads to immunity in most people.”
May 26: The latest COVID-19 news (WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show)
Howard Koh discussed COVID-19 on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.
In this interview with NPR’s David Greene, HGHI director Ashish Jha talked about the impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. so far and what to expect in the coming months. “We’re not anywhere near done,” he said. Models suggest “that we’re probably going to see between another 70 and 100,000 deaths between now and then the end of the summer.” He said that mask-wearing, social distancing, and a robust testing, tracing, and isolation program will be key to reopening society amid the pandemic.
As Massachusetts begins to reopen for business amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts cautioned that it’s still important to continue with disease-fighting measures such as face masks and social distancing. “Just because we’re seeing improvement doesn’t mean the threat has gone away,” said emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger.
May 26: Packed crowds spark pandemic alarms as states reopen (The Hill)
Research associate Jose (Memo) Cedeño Laurent said that people should not drop their guards as states across the U.S. reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said he was particularly concerned about viral images from Memorial Day weekend showing packed crowds in various locations, because it will take two weeks to see any impact in the number of COVID-19 cases. “We have a tremendous blind spot” when it comes to understanding how long infections can take to how up on paper, he said. “It’s a false sense of security.”
May 26: Risk Factors For COVID-19 Transmission And The Potential Impact Of ‘Caution Fatigue’ (Texas Public Radio)
Jose Cedeño Laurent, research associate, was a guest on this radio interview that focused on “caution fatigue” related to coronavirus restrictions.
May 26: Expert: A new study’s dire picture of Mass. coronavirus future is a warning signal (Boston Globe)
A new model predicts that, as Massachusetts loosens coronavirus-related restrictions and people begin to circulate more, hundreds more could die each day. Epidemiologist William Hanage said that the model makes clear that “we must remain vigilant.”
May 26: Op-ed: The key to stopping covid-19? Addressing airborne transmission. (Washington Post)
Mitigating airborne transmission of the coronavirus “should be at the front of our disease-control strategies for COVID-19,” wrote healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen in this opinion piece.
May 25: Podcast: To Test a Vaccine for COVID-19, Should Volunteers Risk Their Lives? (New Yorker)
In this podcast, epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch discussed human challenge trials, which could expedite development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Lipsitch was co-author of an article in support of using such trials.
May 25: How to maintain social distance as the U.S. reopens (New Yorker)
In this Q&A, Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, discussed why public health officials have changed their advice on wearing masks, the risks of socializing outdoors, and problems with using public bathrooms during the coronavirus pandemic.
May 25: ANALYSIS: When will we know if lifting lockdown in France was a mistake? (The Local)
Discussing France’s efforts to fight COVID-19, lecturer Claire Chaumont said that as the French government moves from a strategy of complete social distancing to one of trying to identify and isolate new cases of the virus, it is trying to discover any resurgence and “nip it in the bud.” She said, “It’s like little fires that you need to put out.”
May 25: With reopening comes the threat of a second wave of COVID-19, scientists warn (Boston Globe)
As Massachusetts begins to reopen, it could experience a second COVID-19 wave, either in the fall or sooner, say experts. “The virus may be with us for a good part of the next year,” said Barry Bloom. Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology, agreed. “The reality is that we’re in for the long haul here,” she said. “The virus hasn’t gone away.”
May 25: ‘This Is Not the Hunger Games’: National Testing Strategy Draws Concerns (New York Times)
Under a Trump administration plan, individual states are responsible for planning and conducting all coronavirus testing, with the federal government providing some supplies. Critics say the plan could spark competition among states, and that the White House’s testing targets—roughly 300,000 per day—are too low. “On the face of it, the idea that 300,000 tests a day is enough for America is absurd,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha.
May 25: Distress in seniors surges amid coronavirus pandemic (CNN)
Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen was quoted.
May 24: Trump sides with religious leaders in fight against governors (The Hill)
Public health experts said that reopening houses of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic must be done with caution, since evidence shows that confined spaces are COVID-19 hotspots. Howard Koh was quoted.
May 24: How summer could determine the pandemic’s future (Politico)
In the coming months, testing capacity will be key to detecting new cases of COVID-19 and helping contain its spread, say experts. Epidemiologist Michael Mina said that a shortage of basic supplies like cotton swabs remains a problem. “We do not have enough to go forward, despite what the president says,” he said. “Anyone who says we have plenty of tests in this country is just wrong.”
May 24: Contact tracing for COVID-19 will be the most complex health investigation ever (National Geographic)
Contact tracing is a key part of stopping a pathogen’s transmission, say experts. But the nature of the coronavirus, and problems in America—political tribalism, misinformation, the demonization of at-risk communities, and the lack of a unified federal response—mean that contact tracing could be complicated and difficult. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said he thinks “it’s probably not going to work. But given the lack of alternatives, we have to try—and hopefully demonstrate that I’m wrong.”
May 24: Grab bag of businesses will be part of state’s contact tracing network (Boston Globe)
As part of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan, businesses such as barber shops, car washes, and zoos are being asked to keep a log of customers, so that health officials can track down those who came in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 who visited that business. Once those people are found, they would be told they may be infected and instructed to stay home. “The intervention that counts here is the isolation or quarantine,” said Barry Bloom. “That’s the intervention that stops transmission.” Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said it makes the most sense to focus on collecting customer information at businesses where there is a lot of close contact, such as hair salons.
May 23: COVID-19 cases spike in two Maine counties causing concern for state officials, report says (Portland Press Herald)
To address a spike in coronavirus cases in two Maine counties, Thomas Tsai, health policy researcher, said the state should initiate aggressive testing and contact tracing.
May 22: Mass. is putting a lot of focus on its coronavirus testing strategy. Will it work? (Boston Globe)
Some experts say that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to significantly expand the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity may come too late to make a big difference in tamping down the spread of the virus. Epidemiologist Michael Mina, health policy researcher Thomas Tsai, and Yonatan Grad, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, were quoted.
May 22: Early COVID-19 Vaccine Data Positive, But ‘Unimpressive’ (VOA)
Immunologist Sarah Fortune was quoted.
May 22: Coronavirus: Is it safe to visit US national parks? (BBC)
Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, was quoted.
Long-term care facilities should test residents and workers for COVID-19 often, say experts. Epidemiologist Michael Mina was quoted.
May 22: As Florida nursing home deaths tick upward, widespread testing stalls (Tampa Bay Times)
Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, was quoted on the importance of testing all nursing home residents and staff members across the U.S. on a regular basis to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
May 22: Businesses are reopening. If you’re older or sick, what happens to your job? (Los Angeles Times)
Getting workplaces open amid the coronavirus pandemic is a priority given the economic fallout from the virus. But some workers—the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and minorities—are more vulnerable to COVID-19, raising difficult questions for both employees and employers. “COVID has really brought to the forefront a sense of vulnerability that is much bigger than we thought,” said Eileen McNeely, executive director of SHINE, which researches how to develop sustainable and healthful workplaces. “We’ve all now started to pay attention to who’s dying at greater rates.”
May 22: Who Dies The Most During The Coronavirus Pandemic? (NPR’s All Things Considered)
Research scientist Jarvis Chen spoke with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly about why struggling neighborhoods have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
May 22: How the coronavirus exposed health disparities in communities of color (Washington Post)
Social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger was quoted.
May 22: C.D.C. Test Counting Error Leaves Epidemiologists ‘Really Baffled’ (New York Times)
In tracking the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is combining diagnostic tests that detect active infection with antibody tests that detect past infection—which experts say can distort what’s actually happening with the coronavirus pandemic. Epidemiologist William Hanage said that in most places in the U.S., a relatively low proportion of people have been exposed to the virus, which means “that [antibody] tests are more likely to come back negative, which means that you could end up with a misleading picture overall. You’ll think there is less disease there than there actually is. That is not something that is going to be helpful, to say the least.”
May 22: Op-ed: We need one response — not 50 — to fight Covid-19 (STAT)
The federal government should play a strong role in guiding how states navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and reopen their economies, wrote Howard Koh in this op-ed.
May 22: Data controversy spreads nationwide on positive COVID-19 tests (ABC Arizona)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are counting two different kinds of tests to monitor the coronavirus pandemic—both diagnostic tests and antibody tests—and lumping them together may minimize the actual infection risk, say experts. “It’s like mixing apples and oranges together,” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai. He added, “There are lives at stake, and the economy is at stake if we don’t get this right.”
Any vaccine developed for COVID-19 will not simply prevent all infections, but is likely to reduce the risk for contracting the disease and experiencing severe symptoms, according to experts. Epidemiologist Michael Mina and immunologist Sarah Fortune were quoted.
May 22: How Will We Ever Be Safe Inside? (The Atlantic)
Researchers suspect that the main way COVID-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets produced when people sneeze, cough or talk—particularly in close quarters and in unventilated spaces. To reduce the risk of infection, there will need to be changes at public entertainment venues such as sports stadiums and theaters, said healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen. For instance, he said that full-capacity stadiums will be impossible, masks will be required, and ticketing and concessions should be made as touchless as possible. And it will be important to reduce the typical crowds that gather at entrances to stadiums and theaters before events, he said.
May 21: ‘When you see death all the time, you go into this mode of increased energy and sharper focus’ (Harvard Gazette)
Myron “Max” Essex, Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Science, Emeritus, shared lessons that could help in fighting COVID-19, from a time when scientists raced to find answers about another mysterious ailment—AIDS. Essex is chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health AIDS Initiative and chair of the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership.
May 21: Love in the time of COVID (Harvard Gazette)
An expert in romantic relationships discussed how to keep love alive during the coronavirus pandemic, as part of a series on COVID-19 and mental health sponsored by Harvard Chan School and hosted by psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen.
May 21: In the post-pandemic world, your boss knows if you washed your hands (Fast Company)
Nachiket Vaze, research associate, commented on new technologies that can monitor handwashing frequency and effectiveness among food service workers.
May 21: Want to see friends and family, now that COVID-19 restrictions are loosening? Here’s what to consider. (Minnesota Public Radio)
May 21: Road trips won’t be the same this summer. Here’s what you should plan for (USA Today)
Americans taking road trips this summer may come across checkpoints at state lines, quarantine orders, closed welcome centers and rest areas, and fewer open hotels and restaurants. “I don’t think this is going to be like any other kind of summer,” said Joseph Allen, an expert in environmental exposures. “Everything is going to be very different.”
Socially distanced dining outdoors—which many restaurants are starting to do during the coronavirus pandemic—can be a relatively safe way to eat out, say experts. “Dining outdoors, with tables separated and staff wearing masks, will have a lower risk than being confined indoors,” said Barry Bloom.
As Memorial Day approached, experts said it was OK to spend time outdoors, as long as you’re careful. Joseph Allen, an expert in environmental exposures, was quoted.
May 21: 5 questions about reopening the U.S. amid COVID-19, answered by an expert (PBS NewsHour)
May 21: How societies can fight pandemics and climate change at the same time (The Atlantic Council)
Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard C-CHANGE), said that it’s important to fight climate change alongside the coronavirus pandemic. “If we do things that address climate change, we are going to do things that make us more resilient” to other threats such as pandemics, he said. For example, reducing air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels could help reduce the sort of pre-existing conditions that make COVID-19 particularly risky for some people.
May 21: Mask tan lines, here we come: Mass. beaches open in age of coronavirus (Boston Globe)
There are a slate of new rules and regulations to limit the spread of the coronavirus on Massachusetts beaches. Joseph Allen, an expert in environmental exposures, said of going to beaches, parks, or other spots, “We should view this as a privilege. And one that can be revoked quickly if we demonstrate we’re unable to abide by these rules.”
May 21: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Stark partisan divide on reopening America (Politico)
Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that businesses should reopen soon, according to a POLITICO-Harvard Chan School poll. “What we have here is a very real partisan split that you don’t expect to find in a public health epidemic,” said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis, who helped design the poll.
May 21: ‘We’ve prevailed’: Trump’s claims of success against coronavirus pose political risks (Boston Globe)
President Trump’s habit of touting success in the fight against the coronavirus, and downplaying its risks, could give people a false sense of security and have a dangerous impact on public health, say experts. Said immunologist Yonatan Grad, “If the implication is that we’re at the end, then absolutely that is shortsighted. To the extent that there remain substantial percentages of the population that are susceptible, we should expect to see a resurgence in infections.”
May 21: Op-ed: Love of Neighbor During the Pandemic (Psychology Today)
The principle of “love they neighbor” should guide people’s decisions about social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, wrote Tyler VanderWeele, John. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, in this op-ed.
States with stricter COVID-19 shutdown rules could experience spikes in disease because of spillover travel from states with looser restrictions, according to experts. HGHI director Ashish Jha and immunologist Sarah Fortune were quoted.
As of May 21, Brazil had the third-highest COVID-19 outbreak in the world, but the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus and pushed for businesses to reopen. At least 10 governors said they would ignore Bolsonaro’s orders allowing some businesses, like gyms and nail salons, to reopen, but Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, said the mixed messaging is a problem. “Once you have a polarized society, and you have conflicting messages, people decide to follow whoever they want,” she said.
May 21: It’s Not Too Late to Save Black Lives (Slate)
Experts say there are steps that can be taken to minimize the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on African Americans, including reducing exposure, adequate testing and contact tracing, getting reliable information to black communities, and addressing preexisting inequities. One way to temper the effects of the pandemic would be to provide essential workers, such as health care professionals, janitors, or in-home care providers, with adequate personal protective equipment, said social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger.
Even if someone tests positive for antibodies to the coronavirus—suggesting that they were infected with the virus in the past—it doesn’t prove they won’t get infected again, according to experts. Epidemiologist Michael Mina said that if a younger member of a household had antibodies, that person “would probably be the safest bet to be able to safely go to get the groceries.” But he added, “I still wouldn’t want that individual going to get groceries and then going the next day to a nursing home to see Grandma.”
May 21: ‘How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?’ (The Atlantic)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been combining two different types of COVID-19 test results—tests that diagnose current infections and tests that measure past infection—which is leading to an overstatement about the country’s testing capacity. States have set guidelines for reopening their economies based on the misleading data. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha, when told what the CDC was doing. “How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.” The CDC has indicated that it will separate the two types of test results in the next few weeks, but until then the data it provides on COVID-19 testing will be suspect and difficult to interpret, said epidemiologist William Hanage. “Combining a test that is designed to detect current infection with a test that detects infection at some point in the past is just really confusing and muddies the water,” he said.
May 21: India: COVID-19: 60% farmers suffered yield loss on their harvest, shows survey (Down to Earth)
A telephone survey conducted in early May by Harvard Chan School and colleagues in India found than more than 60% of farmers in 12 Indian states faced financial losses related to the COVID-19 lockdown in that country. The research was led by Lindsay Jaacks, assistant professor of global health; Divya Velaguri, research assistant, was quoted.
May 21: Will DIY Coronavirus Test Kits Close the Testing Gap? (Mother Jones)
Some experts say that millions of COVID-19 tests should be conducted every day, and one way to get to that amount would be to provide at-home test kits. Epidemiologist Michael Mina thinks that easy-to-use DIY tests are not far off, and could come in the form of a paper strip test “that you can either spit on, or you swab a Q-Tip into your nose and rub it on this thing, or put some solution on it,” he said.
May 20: This Year’s Forest Fire Season Could Be Even Deadlier (Foreign Policy In Focus)
May 20: To Get a Haircut, or Not to Get a Haircut? (Boston Magazine)
Barbershops and hair salons are opening in Massachusetts after Memorial Day, under strict safety measures including the use of face masks and gloves, and cuts by appointment only. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen said that even with these and other measures, the risk of getting your hair cut in a barbershop or salon will never be zero, and that people need to weigh the risks for themselves. He said, “Maybe going to the barbershop isn’t all that necessary for me, but for some people it might be—for their mental health, well-being, or maybe even just that little bit of social interaction—so they need to assess: Is it necessary?”
May 20: Op-ed: Americans Want Health. Will Leaders Listen? (ThriveGlobal)
Americans have changed their behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic for the good of the nation’s health, wrote psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen and Sandro Galeo, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, in this op-ed. Teachers moved curricula online, grocery store clerks continued to work despite threats to their health, parents started juggling child care duties with work, and people started wearing face masks. “Our citizens have shown through their sacrifices that we want health,” Koenen and Galeo wrote. “Is it then not time for us collectively to demand health at all times?” The authors urged support for conditions to keep people healthy—safe housing, good schools, livable wages, gender equity, clean air, drinkable water, and a fair economy.
May 20: Trump is trying to leverage control over WHO while criticizing China for doing the same (Business Insider)
Some experts are questioning President Trump’s efforts to leverage control over the World Health Organization, which he criticized for not showing enough independence from China. Referring to a letter that Trump wrote to WHO threatening to defund the agency, Suerie Moon, adjunct lecturer on global health, said, “One thing that strikes me about the letter, which is remarkable, is a deep irony. Trump is right that the world needs a stronger, more independent WHO, but his move is exactly what weakens it—when governments baldly use money and other means of leverage to try to influence WHO’s decisions or actions.”
May 20: Former Massachusetts health commissioner: How to avert a future coronavirus pandemic (Boston Herald)
To fight the coronavirus and to guard against future pandemics, we need improved public health systems across the U.S., better national coordination of disease-fighting efforts, and strong support for global health organizations such as the World Health Organization, said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, who previously served both as Massachusetts commissioner of public health and assistant secretary for health under President Obama.
May 20: You Should Probably Clean the Air in Your House, Too (InStyle)
Improving the air quality in your home can help reduce allergies and asthma, according to experts. There are many ways to clear away pollen, dust, and other potentially harmful particles: vacuuming, wiping down surfaces, cleaning sheets, improving ventilation in the bathroom and kitchen, avoiding harsh cleaning products, adding plants, or buying an air purifier. “The quality of the air we breathe is linked to our whole body health,” said Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and women’s health.
May 20: Who lives and who dies? Health disparities, COVID-19, & “our common humanity” (Vermont Conversation)
In this podcast, social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger talked about how racism, poverty, and where people live and work often determine who lives and who dies when health crises hit.
May 20: America’s Patchwork Pandemic Is Fraying Even Further (The Atlantic)
The coronavirus pandemic is moving through different parts of the U.S. in different ways, and outcomes can vary widely based on social distancing, testing, population density, age structure, wealth, societal collectivism, and luck, according to experts. HGHI director Ashish Jha expects the virus to move everywhere in the U.S. eventually. “Nothing makes me think the suburbs will be spared—it’ll just get there more slowly,” he said.
As states begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, they are ramping up testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Howard Koh called the progress “encouraging,” but added that the U.S. “also needs to test smarter as well as harder” by focusing on at-risk populations such as nursing home residents, prison inmates, the homeless, communities of color, and those with underlying health conditions. “The good news is that testing rates have gone up recently and many states have begun to move beyond testing only symptomatic people,” he said. “We are making progress but we still have quite a ways to go.”
May 20: Reopening Connecticut: Is It Too Soon To Reopen Our State? (CT Mirror)
In this podcast, health policy researcher Thomas Tsai talked about the importance of ramping up testing and contact tracing in order to reopen states safely amid the coronavirus pandemic. He also said it’s important to see continuing decreases in the rate of people who test positive for the coronavirus, and to have transparent metrics so that people can be confident in their state’s public health measures to control the pandemic. People have individual responsibility to maintain social distancing measures, he added. “It is no longer ever going to look like December 2019,” he said. “This is a new world that we’re reopening to and it’s a world that requires vigilance.”
May 20: When Can I See My Grandkids? (New York Times)
To safely visit with elderly parents during the coronavirus pandemic, experts advise tightening your quarantine protocol ahead of time and, during visits, making sure to wash hands, stay six feet apart, and wear masks. “A sneeze without a mask can spread up to 20 feet,” said Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs. “It’s also the act of speaking—we expel droplets even in quiet speech. The mask really contains a great amount of them. The mask is protecting us all from each other.”
President Trump has been unable to hold political rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic, and has blamed Democrats. But governors interviewed in this article said it’s important to avoid large gatherings to prevent the spread of disease, and has nothing to do with politics. Benjamin Sommers, professor of health policy and economics, said that large gatherings should be among the last types of activity allowed as states begin to lift coronavirus restrictions. “When there are thousands of people in a single building, it’s a near certainty that some of them will have the infection,” he said. “And we know that close contact in confined spaces—exactly the kind of thing happening at a stadium rally—creates a very high risk of spreading infection to numerous other people.”
With COVID-19 infection rates varying within states, city and town officials are sometimes disagreeing with their governors about how and when to lift lockdowns. Experts say a one-size-fits-all approach to reopening doesn’t make sense, given the wide variation in case rates from city to city and state to state. “We have to be making decisions that are hyper local,” said epidemiologist Caroline Buckee. “This is not one big epidemic, it’s multiple, small epidemics.”
May 20: States accused of fudging or bungling COVID-19 testing data (Associated Press)
Public health officials in some states presented data about coronavirus testing in ways that were misleading, according to media reports. For example, in Virginia, Texas, and Vermont, officials combined the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. According to public health experts, presenting the data in this way suggests impressive amounts of testing, but doesn’t accurately portray how the virus is spreading. In Georgia, graphs were presented in such a way that it seemed cases were declining steadily, but the entries were not arranged in chronological order. Health policy researcher Thomas Tsai said that the way Georgia reports data makes it hard to understand current conditions, and he is worried that some other states’ data may have the same problem.
May 19: A summer like no other (Harvard Gazette)
Having fun in the warm weather is both possible and advisable during the coronavirus pandemic—but it’s important to manage the fun carefully, according to Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science. He said that getting outside poses fewer risks than being indoors because there is “unlimited dilution” of viral particles in breezes and viruses don’t survive for long on sunny surfaces, but he said it’s still important to maintain sensible restrictions. He recommended participating in activities within established personal networks and minimizing the risk of infection by keeping six feet apart, wearing masks, coughing into your elbow, using hand sanitizer, washing hands, and staying home if you’re not feeling well. This article also quoted Howard Koh, who urged better coordination among federal, state, and local authorities in fighting the pandemic.
May 19: The Latest on COVID-19 and Re-Opening (WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show)
Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a key role in monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks, helping pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies research and test treatments and develop vaccines, and enabling businesses to figure out the best ways to reopen safely. For example, the Human Immunomics Initiative—a joint project from Harvard Chan School and the Human Vaccines Project—will use AI models to decode how the human immune system fights disease, which could aid in the development of AI-powered models for testing potential vaccines and predicting which therapies might work best across different populations. Immunologist Sarah Fortune was quoted.
May 19: Why the CDC’s coronavirus data is so bad (Business Insider)
Data about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn’t always been accurate, say experts. There’s been a lag time as the agency waits for state reports on infections and deaths, a lack of standardization about how data is reported, and political pressure to keep numbers low. Said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai, “The CDC missed its window to be able to have that position of authority on the data and people are looking for other sources.”
May 19: Pandemic in the workplace (Harvard Magazine)
This article highlighted recent research from Stefanos Kales, professor in the Department of Environmental Health, Fan-Yun Lan, doctoral candidate in Population Health Sciences, and colleagues that suggests that workplace transmission of the coronavirus accounted for 48% of the initial outbreaks in six Asian countries. Although healthcare workers accounted for 22% of occupational cases, the majority of work-related transmission occurred among people working as taxi drivers, tour guides, janitors, police officers, or similar jobs where people had limited access to personal protective equipment.
May 19: So you really want to see your friends? Here’s how to assess the risk (LA Times)
Public health experts acknowledge that, as people experience quarantine fatigue from the coronavirus pandemic, they looking for ways to visit friends and family. FXB Center director Mary Bassett said she expects that people will start to expand their “cone of safety” beyond their own households, whether or not public health officials say it’s safe. “Regardless of what we tell them, people will try to rank their risk,” she said. This article quoted experts on the risk posed by various social activities, such as two families gathering for a barbecue while staying six feet apart (tough if kids are involved), a socially distanced walk (relatively low risk), or drinks around a firepit with chairs six feet apart (fairly low risk).
May 19: Op-ed: The trouble with mandatory coronavirus testing in nursing homes (Boston Globe)
Simply mandating coronavirus testing in nursing homes—as some states are now insisting—could be a problematic strategy without the proper support, according to this op-ed co-authored by epidemiologist Michael Mina. The authors wrote that there’s still not enough testing capacity; that there is misunderstanding about what exactly should be tested (the authors say there’s a need for both viral tests and serology tests, which are blood tests that look for antibodies); and if many nursing home staff members test positive, there may not be enough people to care for the senior residents. “Governors need to step up and provide nursing homes with the tools to protect their staff and residents, rather than only mandating testing,” the authors wrote.
May 19: Never Go Back to the Office (The Atlantic)
This article suggests that, for some employees, continuing to work from home is the best plan amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Regardless of what governments say, right now we are still in a place where ‘work from home’ is the priority for workers that can,” said healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen. “It’s the best hazard mitigation. That companies need to figure out how to bring people back safely is obvious. But that is different from the when.”
May 19: How to stay safe from coronavirus as you venture out during Mass. reopening (Boston Globe)
Experts say that even though hair salons, beaches, some offices, and houses of worship are opening in Massachusetts amid the coronavirus, it’s best to continue to be cautious in venturing out. “People need to understand that they—not the government, but they—carry the success of this [reopening] plan in their personal actions,” said immunologist Sarah Fortune. It’s important to continue wearing a mask, limiting the number of people you see, staying at least six feet apart, washing your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face, and to call a doctor and self-quarantine if you have symptoms that could be COVID-19, Fortune said. “If we all do that, we will really, really limit transmission,” she said.
New toys from Mattel—Matchbox cars, construction sets, and cards—salute first responders. Mattel previously released action figures featuring medical personnel grocery workers, and delivery drivers. For all of the toys, a portion of sales will be donated to #FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative to support health care first responders from Harvard Chan School, Thrive Global, and the CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the talent firm Creative Arts Agency.
May 19: Texas, North Carolina, Arizona see rising cases as they reopen (The Hill)
Three states that are reopening their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic—Texas, North Carolina, and Arizona—have had rising numbers of cases. Epidemiologist Michael Mina said that although he has concerns about disease spikes in states that open too soon, he also thinks that the country is on the brink of “societal collapse” if it doesn’t get the economy moving.
May 18: Dissecting a Disease (Harvard Medical School)
At May 15 briefing from the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness—a multi-institutional initiative to fight the coronavirus pandemic and prepare for future outbreaks—several researchers supported by the consortium discussed their work. One of them was Megan Murray, who is co-leading an epidemiology working group aiming to understand COVID-19’s local and global distribution, the impact of interventions, determinants of disease and disease outcomes, and the efficacy of preventive measures.
May 18: Coronavirus: Trump predicts vaccine delivery by end of 2020. Experts say that’s not likely (Bay Area News Group)
Although the Trump administration announced a plan to have a COVID-19 vaccine available by the end of the year, experts say it’s unlikely that will happen. Even if data shows by then that a vaccine candidate is safe and effective, it could still take months to scale up manufacturing and distribution of hundreds of millions of doses. Barry Bloom said, “Will we know [if a vaccine candidate is] effective? I think extremely unlikely for the span of a year to 18 months. And given other technical problems in producing vaccines, that may even take a lot longer.”
May 18: Face masks, including homemade ones, are effective COVID-19 protection, experts say (PolitiFact)
Claims that cloth masks don’t provide any protection against the coronavirus are false, according to this article. Experts say that fabric masks can help slow the virus’ spread, although their effectiveness can vary depending on the material. “The protection from cloth masks isn’t zero, and it’s definitely not 100 [percent], but the way to think about any of the masks and our overall approach is how do you put together all the pieces of the puzzle to give you a complete picture of minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19?” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai. “Hand washing, wearing masks, and social distancing is part of it, but none of them alone. … Wearing any mask is a very, very small price to pay to be safe and return to society.”
May 18: Op-ed: We won’t end COVID-19 with ‘test and trace’ (Tampa Bay Times)
This op-ed argues that, in America’s political culture that champions individual rights, it will be tough to get everyone to comply with measures to control the coronavirus—including testing, tracing people’s recent contacts, and tracking down all those who may have been infected and ordering them into isolation for two weeks. HGHI director Ashish Jha said he can envision a system that’s somewhat less intrusive, “that asks people to self-isolate for three to five days, gives them a couple of tests, and if both are negative tell them they are okay as a long as they avoid large gatherings. Is that the ideal scientific outcome? No. But we can live with it.”
May 18: Study tracks growing list of COVID-19 symptoms in real time (PRI’s The World)
The COVID Symptom Study has been gathering information about a wide range of coronavirus symptoms, including fever, cough, muscle pains, hives, abdominal pain, confusion, fatigue, and loss of smell and taste. Through an app, it has crowdsourced symptoms from more than 3.5 million people since its launch in March. Lead researcher for the project, Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that clusters of symptoms may be an indicator of the disease and its spread. Such knowledge could help better identify outbreaks, he said. “Our understanding of the symptoms has changed as a result of the data we’re collecting,” he said. “That [data] has been returned to public health authorities as a way to better track where we’re actually seeing incidence.”
May 18: Unaccounted deaths could increase Florida’s COVID-19 death toll, experts say (WFTV ABC Florida)
Hundreds of excess deaths in Florida in March and April aren’t accounted for and could be due to COVID-19, according to this report. Health policy researcher Thomas Tsai said that the excess deaths highlight the degree of undertesting across the U.S. He said undertesting is a function of “clear shortages in the supply chain” as well as “lack of a clear strategy.”
HGHI director Ashish Jha recommended that COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts be significantly ramped up before the state moves to phase two of its plan to reopen the economy, which would include opening restaurants, hotels, and retail operations. “We’re still pretty far behind where I’d like for us to be,” he said in this interview with Jim Braude of WGBH. “While we do have many more tests per capita than most places, the problem is we also had a bigger outbreak than almost any other place. And given the size of the outbreak, we need a lot more tests.”
May 18: Mass. Manufacturers Allowed to Reopen (NBC Boston)
Under Massachusetts’ phased plan to slowly reopen businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturers will be among the first to open their doors. But some experts worry that COVID-19 infections will spike when workers are back on the job. “I think myself and many of my colleagues are very nervous about this idea of opening up this early without the right pieces in place,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina.
Coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking and food-processing plants have led to meat shortages and price hikes in the U.S. But Lilian Cheung, lecturer and director of health promotion and communication in the Department of Nutrition, said that eating less beef and pork could have health benefits. “An optimally healthy diet should be low in red meat,” she said. “There’s plenty of data that [meat] increases the risk of colorectal cancer, other types of cancers, heart disease, diabetes and the higher risk of dying from these things.” She added that some of these health conditions raise the risk from COVID-19.
May 18: Airplanes don’t make you sick. Really. (Washington Post)
In this opinion piece, healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen argued that “you don’t get sick on airplanes more than anywhere else. Really, you don’t.” He pointed out that ventilation system requirements for airplanes meet the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use with COVID-19 patients in airborne infection isolation rooms. He acknowledged that airplanes are vectors of disease, but said there are simple steps passengers can take to reduce the odds of getting sick, such as wearing a mask, washing their hands frequently, and maintaining physical distancing when possible. Allen also outlined disease-curbing strategies for airports—such as making bathrooms touchless and adding hand-sanitizer stations—and for airlines, such as providing meals and bottled water during boarding and discontinuing in-flight meal and drink service.
May 18: Where Chronic Health Conditions and Coronavirus Could Collide (New York Times)
Regions of the U.S. that have not yet seen large outbreaks of COVID-19—but where there are high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and chronic lung disease—could face a heavy toll in the weeks, months, and even years to come, say experts. Large areas in the South and in Appalachia are particularly vulnerable. Lower-income groups and communities of color are at higher risk because they have higher rates of chronic diseases, lower health insurance rates, and less access to health care. Such disparities reflect historical and current inequalities, said social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger. She added that these same groups are likely at higher risk for catching COVID-19 because they have jobs that make it hard for them to stay home and they often live in crowded conditions. “It’s a compounding of risk,” she said.
May 17: 92 New Coronavirus Deaths in Massachusetts; 1,077 New Cases (NBC Boston)
As Massachusetts begins to slowly reopen its economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, immunologist Sarah Fortune expressed “a great deal of confidence in [the Baker administration], which is taking things slowly, and I think as we take things slowly and we all lean in to our responsibilities as members of the community, we can do this successfully.” She said the four main ways to prevent the coronavirus from resurging are frequent handwashing, wearing face masks, social distancing, and timely testing for people with symptoms.
May 17: Maine reopening despite missed benchmarks, inadequate testing regime (Portland Press Herald)
Maine is lifting restrictions that have helped curb the COVID-19 pandemic, even though experts say the state has not yet met key benchmarks—such as having downward trends in new cases, minimum levels of tests each day, and a plan to routinely test asymptomatic people working in roles of high exposure in health care, groceries, ambulances, and factories. “My feeling is that OK is not good enough,” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai. “What’s at stake are lives and livelihoods and the way to restore the economy is really about restoring confidence in society, and the way you restore confidence is by widespread testing.”
May 17: State and Federal Data on COVID-19 Testing Don’t Match Up (The Atlantic)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now providing tallies of how many COVID-19 tests have been conducted in the U.S., state by state. But there are major discrepancies between what the CDC is reporting and what the states themselves are reporting. In some cases, the CDC’s numbers are much higher that what states are reporting, and in others, lower. “This is more evidence of the dysfunction of the CDC,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha.
May 17: The U.S. Is Building A Contact-Tracer Army (Huffington Post)
States across the U.S. are hiring thousands of contact tracers—disease “detectives” who can track down people who may have been infected with COVID-19 and suggest next steps, such as testing and self-quarantine. One of the contact tracers is Harvard Chan School student Jessica Schiff, MPH ’21, who is helping in Massachusetts.
May 17: As coronavirus testing expands, a new problem arises: Not enough people to test (Washington Post)
Tests for COVID-19 are becoming much more widely available across the U.S., but, in some states, not enough people are getting tested. Experts say that there may be several reasons people aren’t showing up for tests, such as confusion about who qualifies, a lack of access in some areas, concerns about cost, and concern about testing operations. “A lot of states put in very, very restrictive testing policies…because they didn’t have any tests. And they’ve either not relaxed those, or the word is not getting out,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “We want to be at a point where everybody who has mild symptoms is tested. That is critical. That is still not happening in a lot of places.”
Changes in offices during the coronavirus pandemic will include things like temperature checks, elevator lines, and Zoom meetings with the person in the office next to you. “It will look and feel different, right off the bat,” said healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen. “And it will be inconvenient to go to work.”
May 16: More women than men are dying of coronavirus in Massachusetts. Why is that? (Boston Globe)
Around the world, more men are dying from the coronavirus than women. Experts cite possible reasons for this gender disparity, such as women’s typically more robust immune systems, more pre-existing conditions in men, and hormonal differences. Social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger said hygiene could be playing a role. Studies have showed that “men are much less likely to wash their hands after using the restroom than women are,” she said. “So that’s going to have implications for infection.” In Massachusetts and a handful of U.S. states, though, more women are dying than men. One reason may be that women live longer than men on average, and populate nursing homes in higher numbers—and long-term care facilities in Massachusetts have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. “Whatever happens in nursing homes is going to sway all our statistics,” said Lisa Berkman, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology, and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
May 15: Women in science are battling both Covid-19 and the patriarchy (Times Higher Education)
In this blog, 35 female scientists wrote that “the scientific response to COVID-19 has been characterized by an extraordinary level of sexism and racism.” Eight Harvard Chan School scientists co-authored the blog, including Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology; Bethany Hedt-Gauthier, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics; Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology; Pamela Martinez, postdoctoral research fellow; epidemiology graduate students Christine Tedijanto, Rebecca Khan, and Tigist Menkir; and Ruoran Li, postdoctoral researcher.
May 15: US Employers Question Coronavirus ‘Immunity’ Tests as Reopening Begins (Reuters)
Blood tests that check for antibodies to the coronavirus have been seen by some as a means of identifying people who are immune to the virus or who won’t spread it to others. But as U.S. employers begin to reopen workplaces, few are planning to use antibody tests, because it’s unclear if having antibodies translates into immunity, and many of the tests are unreliable. Howard Koh said that once the Food and Drug Administration verifies which tests work well, it will help advance research on how many people who recover from COVID-19 develop antibodies, how many antibodies they develop, and show if they’re actually immune to reinfection. “Until we go through those steps, I don’t see how we can translate this for the typical person who wants to go back to work,” he said.
May 15: Just Because You Can Afford to Leave the City Doesn’t Mean You Should (New York Times)
Even though New York and cities like it are experiencing devastating coronavirus outbreaks, it’s not their density per se that is driving transmission; instead, COVID-19 clusters are biggest in areas with the most household crowding, poverty, racialized economic segregation, and participation in the work force, wrote FXB Center director Mary Bassett. Bassett argued that cities are actually healthy places to live overall. Their walkability builds exercise into everyday life, and their large tax base helps support cultural institutions, world-class medical care, public transportation, and parks, she wrote. She urged that cities work to minimize the risk of disease transmission by increasing the frequency of buses and trains to reduce crowding, creating more space for walkers and bikers, and building more affordable housing.
May 15: Threat of community transmission of Covid-19 in India: Health expert (Live Mint)
K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology, warned that India should prepare for an upsurge in cases of COVID-19 when it eases its lockdown. “We must recognize that this virus is going to stay on for some time and we have to make sure that at least for the next one year, we try and keep the virus as slowly moving as possible by physical distancing and other protective measures like [wearing] masks and hand-washing,” he said.
Antibody tests—which can show if someone has been infected with COVID-19—are important to determine how widespread the coronavirus is, say public health experts. But the tests can sometimes show false positives. Epidemiologist Michael Mina said that until the tests become more reliable, “I think that people shouldn’t consider them as anything more than a toy.” Immunologist Yonatan Grad pointed out that while the tests detect antibodies to the coronavirus, they cannot guarantee that a person is immune. “One of the reasons why people are so enthusiastic in taking these tests is the hope that it would indicate that they are “immune privileged”—that they have had the infection and now they’re immune,” he said. “While that’s likely the case, we don’t know that for sure.”
May 14: 5 Nutrition Tips to Support a Healthy Immune System (Thrive Global)
Eating healthy food—along with getting adequate sleep, exercise, and managing stress—can help the body maintain a strong immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, wrote nutrition expert Lilian Cheung in this post.
May 14: Mass. may have met one reopening milestone outlined in federal guidance (Boston Globe)
Gov. Charlie Baker is considering a number of public health statistics to guide decisions about reopening Massachusetts during the coronavirus pandemic—such as a two-week downward trajectory in new cases and in the percentage of positive tests, number of hospitalizations, ICU usage, and fatalities. Health policy researcher Thomas Tsai said that the state has been doing a good job being transparent about data and using it to guide decision-making, which is important because restrictions may have to be tightened again if disease flare-ups occur. “This is going to be a very dynamic process,” he said. “There may be peaks and valleys in terms of the pandemic.”
As of May 13, Massachusetts had reported 5,315 coronavirus-related deaths. But there may be another 1,400 people who died from COVID-19 that were not counted. Reporters compared average monthly deaths in Massachusetts from 2015 to the present and found that, after factoring in the reported number of COVID-19 deaths, there were still many more deaths unaccounted for. “There’s clear consensus that many of these unaccounted for deaths, you know, some of these deaths at home, or in other facilities before they could have been tested, are likely due to COVID-19 itself,” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai.
May 14: Scientists say the best treatment for COVID-19 may be a cocktail of medicines (Boston Globe )
A cocktail of medicines is likely to be the best treatment for COVID-19, say experts. Barry Bloom said he is hopeful that one or more such medicines will be available by the end of the year. “What we learned with HIV is that no one drug works very well,” he said. “But if you put three drugs together that are pretty good drugs, you can control the virus for life.”
May 14: What a century old tragedy tells us about playing sports through a pandemic like COVID-19 (Miami Herald)
In this article discussing the challenges of restarting sports events during the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiologist William Hanage commented on when fans might be able to watch sports in person again. He said that the return of crowds can happen only when there is herd immunity—when enough of the population has become immune to COVID-19 so that widespread infection has slowed—and antibody testing, which could potentially show if a person has become immune. “Crowds will only come back when there is population-level immunity,” he said. “That depends on how many people have been infected. We will get a better picture after the first surge is past us and we have antibody testing … it all depends on data not yet known.”
May 14: A Stark Look at Covid-19 and Racial Disparities (Elemental)
Existing disparities in life expectancy in the U.S. will likely be exacerbated by COVID-19, say experts. This article cited a recent analysis by social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger and colleagues that found that a surge in excess deaths in Massachusetts in the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic was 40% greater in cities and towns “with higher poverty, higher household crowding, higher percentage of people of color, and higher racialized economic segregation,” compared to towns with the lowest levels.
Many U.S. states are easing COVID-19 restrictions, even though many have not met benchmarks set by the Trump administration for adequate testing levels and declining numbers of cases over a two-week period. Said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai, “As you move on to the next stage you need the infrastructure in place—you need the contact tracing programme up and running as well as testing. My worry is that we aren’t getting the infrastructure right now while we have a little breathing room.”
At least 48 U.S. states will be partially reopened by May 17 amid the coronavirus pandemic, even though experts warn that doing so will lead to more deaths. HGHI director Ashish Jha said that states can start to reopen safely if they meet certain guidelines, including having declining cases and a strong testing and contact tracing infrastructure. “Most states don’t meet that,” he said. “A few do. They can probably open up safely. But most states don’t. Until we have those in place, we should not be opening up unless we’re willing to take a risk of having large outbreaks.”
May 14: To combat Covid, look where it strikes, says Harvard expert (The Economic Times)
As evidence mounts that COVID-19 disproportionately strikes people in lower socioeconomic groups and people of color, countries battling the pandemic, such as India, should collect data on the background of those who are infected to help develop mitigation strategies, according to Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication. “It is becoming clearer it is not just older people who are vulnerable to the disease, which is sad enough, but there are these other conditions that amplify the impact of COVID-19,” he said.
May 14: What percent positivity can — and can’t — tell us about Virginia’s COVID-19 epidemic (Virginia Mercury)
To aid in making decisions about reopening the state of Virginia amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam is considering a health metric called “percent positivity”—the percentage of total tests that are positive. Barry Bloom said that the metric can show “who’s got the biggest testing game in town.” That’s because, as the total number of tests increases, the percent of positive tests typically goes down relative to the overall number. Bloom said a declining positivity rate is a good sign that testing is increasing, but it doesn’t necessarily shed light on infections in the overall population, many of whom may be asymptomatic and “walking around, have the infection, and are able to transmit it but are perfectly healthy.”
May 14: How Much Testing Does the U.S. Need to Reopen? (New Yorker)
Public health experts say the U.S. needs to be testing more people for COVID-19, but they don’t agree on what the number should be. Part of the reason for the disagreement is there are varying estimates as to the number of unknown cases of the coronavirus. There are also differing opinions on what the goal of comprehensive testing should be. On May 7, HGHI director Ashish Jha and colleagues estimated that the nation should be conducting 900,000 tests per day, and they recommended minimum testing targets for each state. Only seven states were meeting those goals as of May 6. Jha said that members of President Trump’s coronavirus task force know about the shortfalls and agree with his calculations, “except to say that I’m being too conservative and we need more than that.”
May 14: COVID-19 amplifies racial disparities in maternal health (Roll Call)
Maternal mortality—the death of a woman during pregnancy or shortly after delivery—has hit African Americans particularly hard for decades. Now, experts worry that the COVID-19 pandemic will make the situation worse. This article quoted Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams and obstetrician-gynecologist Neel Shah, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, about the problem.
May 13: Stress was already killing black Americans. Covid-19 is making it worse. (Washington Post)
When police kill unarmed African Americans, the entire African American community in the state in which it occurs can suffer long-term negative mental health impacts, said David R. Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Stuart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, in this interview on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
Many people have indicated that they’d be willing to participate in a “human-challenge” study to help test potential vaccines for the coronavirus. In this kind of study, people get an experimental vaccine, then are exposed directly to a pathogen—which can shave months from the typical vaccine trial process, in which scientists have to wait to see if vaccinated volunteers get infected with a particular pathogen as they go about their daily lives. Conducting a human-challenge study for COVID-19 is tricky because the disease can be deadly and there are limited treatment options, say experts. But Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology, and colleagues argued in a March 31 article that the COVID-19 emergency warrants consideration of unconventional approaches. Lipsitch compared volunteering for a human-challenge trial to endeavors such as volunteer firefighting or organ donation. “People are willing to take on life-threatening risk for other people’s benefit and often not just as a job but as a form of altruistic behavior,” he said. “We not only encourage that, but we completely depend on that in many sectors of our lives.”
This op-ed, co-authored by HGHI director Ashish Jha, cautioned against using drugs to treat COVID-19 that have not been proven safe and effective. During past disease outbreaks, clinicians have tried various drugs “because they wanted to do something,” the authors wrote—often with disastrous consequences. For example, the use of salicylates during the 1918 flu pandemic turned out to be toxic. “Our medical past is littered with pharmaceutical mishaps and counterproductive responses during global pandemics,” wrote the authors. “The evidence is clear that prematurely electing one untested drug can cause much more harm than good.”
May 13: COVID-19 May Be Much More Contagious Than We Thought (Harvard Magazine)
There’s a possibility that COVID-19 is much more contagious than previously thought. Three Harvard Chan School experts—Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology, and Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology—commented on an indicator called R nought (R0), whichs shows how many other people one person with COVID-19 can infect. The R0 of the coronavirus was originally thought to be in the 2 to 3 range, but experts now think it may be closer to 5 or 6. The higher the R0 of a particular disease, the harder it becomes to control its spread.
May 13: ‘Unrivaled?’ Fact-checking Donald Trump’s claims about COVID-19 testing (USA Today)
Although President Trump has repeatedly said that there is enough testing for the coronavirus going on in the U.S., experts disagreed. “The reason we had to shut down in the first place was we didn’t have enough testing,” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai. “The reason that we have stayed shut down is that we didn’t have enough testing. And we want to make sure that when we do open that we can stay open, and the way to ensure that is to make sure we have enough testing.”
May 13: Responding to this pandemic, preparing for the next (Harvard Gazette)
Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, has been working to set up and scale COVID-19 testing in the Boston area and in parts of Africa, and is sequencing viral samples from Massachusetts patients. “Our goals are finding ways of detecting these microbes, connecting that information and sharing it in real time, and empowering every actor—from the researchers and the clinicians to the average citizen—so they can be best informed and best able to respond in the context of the outbreak,” she said. Dyann Wirth, Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, said that Sabeti is “a brilliant scientist and is driven to do the best science for the most important public health problems.”
There have been significant flaws in the U.S. response to the coronavirus—including testing failures, downplaying of risks, and a disproportionate impact on people of color—according to panelists at a virtual event held by the Kennedy Library Forum. One of the panelists, David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health, said, “We had information and we discounted it. We didn’t take it as seriously as we could have. I do think that we could have been in a better position than we currently are if we had acted promptly.” He added, “COVID-19 did not create racial disparities in health. It’s simply shining a magnifying glass on disparities that have existed for over 100 years.”
Increasing numbers of scientists, economists, and business leaders say that a number of strategies will help save lives while also saving the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to testing, tracing, and social distancing measures, they are discussing ideas such as maintaining restrictions for seniors and allowing older employees to work at home for longer periods. Social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger pointed out that “it’s not just age” that puts people at risk, but “racial and economic inequities in living and working conditions.” Krieger co-authored a recent analysis that showed that, during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the mortality rate was higher in Massachusetts cities and towns with larger concentrations of poverty, people of color, and crowded housing.
May 13: Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry (New Yorker)
Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, wrote that American hospitals have figured out how to avoid becoming sites of spread of the coronavirus, and that lessons can be learned from them as lockdowns are lifted across the country. He said that the strategies that have worked in hospitals are like “a drug cocktail. Its elements are all familiar: hygiene measures, screening, distancing, and masks. Each has flaws. Skip one, and the treatment won’t work. But, when taken together, and taken seriously, they shut down the virus.”
May 12: Three key issues the Senate’s coronavirus hearing overlooked (National Journal)
A May 12 Senate hearing on the COVID-19 pandemic included testimony from government officials including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hearing covered topics such as the availability of tests, vaccine development, and ensuring that states have adequate medical supplies. Other topics received less airtime, according to experts—such as how the federal government plans to coordinate and support efforts for contact tracing in the states, the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, and funding for public-health infrastructure. “This pandemic has caused so much suffering because it has exposed the lack of attention to prevention and public health in general,” said Howard Koh. “Are there going to be efforts to really explicitly fund public-health professionals and public-health departments in a much more robust way going forward?”
Public health experts agree that testing—a lot of it—is key to preventing surges of COVID-19. Using diagnostic tests to find those who are infected and having them self-isolate will prevent them from infecting others. Other kinds of tests—antibody tests—can determine if a person has been infected previously, and will hopefully shed light on whether they’ve developed immunity to COVID-19. HGHI director Ashish Jha discussed the various kinds of tests, their pros and cons, and how they can be helpful in the fight against the coronavirus.
Experts from the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) say that many states across the U.S. don’t have enough COVID-19 testing in place to reopen businesses without risking a second wave of infections. According to HGHI data, Massachusetts—which was performing about 10,574 tests each day—actually needs to test, at minimum, an average of 71,748 tests per day by May 15. Said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai, “I think this information will help public officials have the infrastructure in place in terms of planning how many tests they may need to be performing.” He said it will also be important to “have the contact tracers coordinate with local public health boards or public health agencies, to move the testing from the hospitals, from the clinics, into the communities so those contacts can actually, truly be tested.”
May 12: In It Together (WGBH)
In this WGBH interview, Jarvis Chen, research scientist in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, discussed new research from Harvard Chan School that found that disadvantaged cities in towns in Massachusetts—locations with the largest concentrations of people of color, more poverty, and more crowded housing—had the highest mortality rates in the state during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Chen, co-author of the analysis, said the findings suggest the importance of considering how to “direct resources to these communities to help to mitigate some of this excess risk.” (Find Chen’s comments at 16:18.)
May 12: Fauci: Consequences could be serious if US states reopen too soon (Al Jazeera )
If cities and states reopen their economies too quickly, coronavirus cases could surge, according to Senate testimony from Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. He said that infections are inevitable as people start gathering, but added that the seriousness of outbreaks could vary depending on how well communities follow Trump administration guidelines for curbing the spread of disease. Experts said that many states that are reopening are not yet fully following the guidelines. “What is really important moving forward is that, we need transparency on the metrics for success or failure with these various reopening plans on a national level, a state level and a local level,” said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai.
Internal federal documents suggest that Georgia may not have enough hospital beds if the state has a surge in the number of critically ill coronavirus patients. Experts have said that, as states reopen their economies, hospitals should prepare to handle an onslaught of patients. “The capacity to cope with a surge in cases, and to detect it promptly, are the minimal requirements as states calibrate reopening,” said epidemiologist William Hanage.
May 11: San Diego Ramped Up Testing Capacity – Now it Just Needs People to Test (Voice of San Diego)
Hospital and clinics in San Diego have boosted their testing capabilities for COVID-19, but they’re only testing at about 60% of their capacity. Said health policy researcher Thomas Tsai, “My fear is that there is some magical thinking that if you build it, they will come. There’s no use having a bunch of tests in a warehouse. You have to get the tests to the people and the people to the tests.” Public health officials in San Diego plan to send health care workers to places like senior living facilities to perform tests. Tsai said this strategy of targeting vulnerable populations is key to creating a robust testing program.
May 11: Mental Health Crisis Emerging From COVID-19 Pandemic (Medicine Net)
Some experts think that emotional distress from the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a national mental health crisis. Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen, who has studied other major disasters, said that this pandemic poses particular problems, including how long it may last and how it is affecting the whole world. “We know that social support is so important to buffer the effects of disasters, to help pull people out of disasters, and here, we see that because of physical distancing … we’re sort of robbed of some of that social support, so that’s extra challenging,” she said. “We’re really treading new ground.”
May 11: Op-ed: Coronavirus: there is no global south exceptionalism (The Conversation)
Some may think the global south won’t be hit as hard as other regions by the coronavirus. But David Hunter wrote in this op-ed that “all the evidence is that [the coronavirus] has arrived, behaves the same way, and that these countries are only a few weeks behind in their epidemics.” He added, “Horrible though these last few months have been, the health impact in less developed countries will be worse.”
May 11: Op-ed: The infodemic on social media around Covid calls for a multi-pronged approach (Indian Express)
In this opinion piece, Aastha Kant and Ria Golecha, project manager and project coordinator, respectively, at Harvard Chan School’s India Research Center, wrote about the “infodemic” crisis—the contagious spread of misinformation—about COVID-19. They listed a number of recommendations to tackle the problem, including urging social media companies to implement robust in-house mechanisms to address misinformation. They also said people need to be vigilant about misinformation on an individual level. They wrote, “Ask yourself these questions before forwarding messages: Is it truthful; how does it help; does it inspire; is it necessary and is it kind.”
May 11: How long immunity lasts after a coronavirus infection and what that means for vaccines (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Evidence from coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS suggests that people who become infected with the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, may not remain immune for a long period of time. Even if people develop antibodies to the coronavirus, antibody tests can’t determine the amount of antibodies a person has, or whether those antibodies can prevent reinfection. So, while some have suggested the use of “immunity passports”—certification that a person is immune because they have antibodies—experts are dubious. “Immune passports are premature,” said imunologist Yonatan Grad.
May 11: Op-ed: If we follow Boris Johnson’s advice, coronavirus will spread (The Guardian)
In this op-ed, David Hunter criticized UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s push to have people return to work during the coronavirus pandemic without having in place the basic infection-control practice of testing, contact tracing, and isolating those with infections. “Let me make a prediction,” he wrote. “If we take the prime minister’s advice and return to work in large numbers now—and without the ability to test, trace and isolate—then virus spread will increase, there will be super-spreader events and local or regional lockdowns will have to be reconsidered.”
The high rate of COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts’ Hampden County is likely due to a number of factors, say experts. One of the state’s poorest areas, the county has a high percentage of people of color, who have higher rates of asthma, less access to health care and healthy food, are more likely to have chronic health conditions than whites, and they often live in crowded conditions and work in service jobs that increase their risk of disease exposure. In addition, the county has 15 nursing homes where people have been struck by COVID-19, including the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, which had more than 70 deaths. “So obviously, we have to be working very hard on our nursing homes and senior facilities,” said immunologist Sarah Fortune. “It’s just a terrible vulnerability.”
May 11: Op-ed: After the pandemic, visiting the doctor will never be the same. And that’s fine. (Washington Post)
The coronavirus pandemic has forced much of primary care medicine online—and that’s a good thing, according to this opinion piece by health policy expert and primary care physician Michael Barnett. “It took a pandemic to get there, but COVID-19 is giving us a sense of how much of our work we can do without tethering doctors to an exam room,” he wrote.
May 9: If Someone Shares the ‘Plandemic’ Video, How Should You Respond? (The Atlantic)
A widely discredited video clip from a documentary called “Plandemic” was circulating online before Facebook and YouTube removed it. The clip included a number of false and harmful claims about COVID-19, such as the idea that wearing a protective mask can make people sick and that the coronavirus probably originated in a lab in China. If someone sends you a link to the video, or to other content pushing a conspiracy theory about the pandemic, be empathetic, but offer to provide more information, experts said. “First validate” people’s fears about the pandemic “and then pivot,” said preparedness fellow Rachael Piltch-Loeb.
May 9: Coronavirus testing numbers improving but still lag (The Hill)
Although the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is falling—a sign that the pandemic could be slowing—the U.S. is still not doing enough testing, experts say. “We’re barely scratching the surface in terms of getting people who just want to be tested able to be tested,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “We’re doing better now than I thought we would be just five or six weeks ago, but it’s still not optimal.” The U.S. conducted an average of 250,000 tests a day during the first week of May, but the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) estimates that roughly 900,000 per day are needed—an increase from previous estimates because, as states reopen their economies, more infections are likely to occur.
May 9: F.D.A. Approves First Antigen Test for Detecting the Coronavirus (New York Times)
A new antigen test that can quickly detect whether someone has been infected by the coronavirus has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Although the tests cannot detect all active infections and have a higher chance of false positives than the type of tests that are typically used—polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests—antigen tests will help boost testing capacity in the U.S., experts said. “I am very enthusiastic about antigen testing because of its ability to be scaled up to millions of tests a day, and because it has a much more rapid turnaround,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “A lot of us have been looking forward to this moment.”
In Massachusetts, the overall mortality rate during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic was highest in cities, towns, and ZIP codes with widespread economic segregation and heavy concentrations of poverty, people of color, and crowded housing, according to a new analysis from Harvard Chan School researchers. Co-authors Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, and research assistant Jarvis Chen were quoted.
May 8: Without CDC Guidance, Reopenings Follow a Patchwork of Rules (Bloomberg)
Businesses across the U.S. are beginning to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic with a patchwork of guidelines. They don’t have access to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), because the Trump administration shelved a document the agency had prepared with detailed recommendations, saying it needed revision. The CDC draft would have answered very specific questions that “everybody is asking,” said Howard Koh. “The CDC is the go-to agency for any public health crisis. The public looks to them for any guidance, particularly as we consider the very difficult decisions about reopening.”
Loosening COVID-19 restrictions will lead to more deaths by summer, say public health experts. That’s because many states are reopening their economies without having enough tests or contact tracers. “We are nowhere near herd immunity, and when the physical distancing interventions that have slowed transmission loosen, we expect to see a resurgence of cases and deaths,” said Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “Without testing to closely follow and trace cases, states should not be re-opening in my opinion.” Epidemiologist William Hanage commented on the likelihood that some activities will move outdoors to lower transmission risk. “Haircuts outside might be sweaty in Georgia and there would still be transmission risk, but less than in a poorly ventilated indoor space,” he said.
May 8: Battling the ‘pandemic of misinformation’ (Harvard Gazette)
There’s been a proliferation of bad information circulating about COVID-19. Health communication expert Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath said that the sheer volume of misinformation and disinformation online is “crowding out” accurate public health guidance. He said public officials are confusing people with contradictory information. He advised the public to closely scrutinize what they read or hear, especially online. But he added that it’s “unfair and it won’t work” to put all the responsibility on the public; he said social media platforms should take more responsibility for what appears on their sites.
May 8: How to Return to Work Safely (Elemental)
The most important way to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace would be to bring back only critical workers at first, according to healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen. Other measures include improving sanitization, improving ventilation and filtration, and reducing workplace density. “There’s no silver bullet here,” said Allen. “We should be throwing everything we have at this virus, which includes controls for all modes of transmission.”
For the past 20 years, the adult film industry has required all performers to be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases every 14 days, and has dealt with issues such as keeping databases of private medical information secure, preventing the forging of test results, dealing with false positives, and educating workers about the need for repeated testing. Experts say that the industry could provide guidance on how to reopen workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. “In many ways, what they are doing is a model for what we are trying to do with Covid,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha, who has been calling for widespread national testing. “What the adult film industry has produced has worked, and really could be the kind of tool we need. People can’t get distracted because it’s from a business they don’t approve of.”
May 8: ‘No one should feel completely safe’: what experts think of California’s reopening plan (The Guardian)
Experts said that no U.S. state has enough coronavirus testing and surveillance to ensure that the virus won’t flare up when stay-at-home measures are eased. But they said that California’s cautious plan to allow businesses to reopen some at a time, with strict safety protocols, makes sense. Health policy resesarcher Thomas Tsai noted that state and local leaders should be prepared to reinstate social distancing if the number of coronavirus cases surges. “Social distancing isn’t an on-off switch,” he said. “What it needs to be is a dial, which can be turned up or down depending on what the data show on the ground in terms of how the Covid-19 epidemic is progressing.” He added, “Reopening is going to be a very complicated process, and it should be complicated. Because this is about making sure that people don’t end up in the hospital or dying.”
May 8: Which Covid-19 Data Can You Trust? (Harvard Business Review)
Epidemiologist Caroline Buckee and Satchit Balsari, fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, were co-authors of this article offering advice on how to sort good data from misleading data regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. They advised looking out for data that’s too broad, too specific, or lacking context; for unvetted data-gathering technologies; and for models produced and presented without appropriate expertise.
COVID-19 has struck black Americans particularly hard. Because of years of structural racism, blacks are more likely than whites to have diabetes, obesity, and asthma—all underlying health problems that make it more likely they’ll develop severe COVID-19 complications, have to be hospitalized, or die. “This is not genetic,” said FXB Center director Mary Bassett. “This is related to the way in which we structured our society.”
May 8: This Is the Future of the Pandemic (New York Times)
Experts say that the novel coronavirus will be around for many months, and will come in waves. Three Harvard Chan School experts—Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, research fellow Stephen Kissler, and doctoral student Christine Tedijanto—discussed possible scenarios, based on recent analyses they conducted.
This editorial co-authored by Eric Rubin, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, raised concerns about the treatment of COVID-19 patients with the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, alone or in combination with azithromycin, without strong scientific evidence showing that they’re safe and effective. The authors commented on an observational study about the drugs with results that “leave open the possibility that these agents could have a modest benefit but do not rule out a detrimental effect, something that will probably be learned only through well-designed and well-conducted randomized, controlled trials.” They added, “It is disappointing that several months into the pandemic, we do not yet have results from controlled trials of a therapy that is being widely used.”
May 7: How far are we from a vaccine? Depends on who ‘we’ is (Harvard Gazette)
Barry Bloom discussed where COVID-19 vaccine efforts stand. For example, some volunteers are already getting an experimental vaccine as part of trials. Priority populations like health care workers and first responders could get a vaccine sometime next year. But people in developing nations may have to wait years, he said. Until a vaccine or treatment is available for COVID-19, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and other measures will be the only available tools for curbing the spread of disease, said immunologist Yonatan Grad.
May 7: New Hampshire testing falls short, say Harvard, national media (New Hampshire Union Leader)
The average number of COVID-19 tests New Hampshire is conducting daily—998—is only 38% of the recommended number, 2632, according to calculations from the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI). Yet the state is planning to ease restrictions on businesses. HGHI director Ashish Jha said, “Testing is outbreak control 101, because what testing lets you do is figure out who’s infected and who’s not. And that lets you separate out the infected people from the non-infected people and bring the disease under control.”
May 7: Facebook post shares flawed COVID-19 survival statistic (PolitiFact)
A recent Facebook post claiming that the current COVID-19 survival rate is 98.54% is only “half-true,” according to PolitiFact—partly because data is preliminary during an ongoing pandemic. Epidemiologist Michael Mina said it’s important to know the total number of deaths and the total numbers of people infected, not just the confirmed numbers.
New testing sites are opening in California to help provide the information about COVID-19 infections that’s needed to help the state reopen. The state has based its testing goals on metrics provided by the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), which estimated how much testing each U.S. state would need before relaxing stay-at-home orders. “California has done really well, and I think it is a shining example of a state that has been proactive in using data to guide their decisions,” said Thomas Tsai, an HGHI researcher.
The state of Tennessee has decided to pay for every single coronavirus test. HGHI director Ashish Jha said that it’s money well-spent, because a lot of testing is needed to safely reopen businesses. “If the state says, we’ll just pay everybody a hundred bucks every time you do a test, that strikes me as very smart policy,” he said.
May 7: U.S. Was Behind On Payments To WHO Before Trump’s Cutoff (WGBH)
Even before President Trump announced he would cut off funding for the World Health Organization (WHO)—because of what he called its failure to challenge Chinese government accounts about when the coronavirus began spreading there—the U.S. was behind on previous promised payments to the health agency. In spite of not paying some back dues, the U.S. has made some recent payments to WHO, including a balance from 2018, part of membership dues for 2019, and a contribution to WHO’s COVID-19 response fund. These mixed signals on payments suggest that President Trump is simply seeking to make WHO a scapegoat, said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “I don’t think that there is any real appetite in the U.S. government to walk away from WHO for the long run,” he said. “This is much more political posturing, so part of me just sort of says we should take the president and his bluster a little less seriously.”
There is still a high plateau of coronavirus cases in the U.S. There were more than 25,000 new COVID-19 infections nearly every day in April, and more than 1,000 people have died each day since April 2. While some states and cities are making progress against the virus, others are seeing cases increase. Meanwhile, about 30 states have started to ease restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus—but experts say doing so could lead to a resurgence of cases. “I’m somewhat sympathetic, as I think everyone is, to the impulse to try to open up,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. But he added, “I don’t think at this point that it’s good public health advice to reopen in most parts of the United States, because case numbers are high, and testing is poor.”
A new analysis from the Harvard Global Health Institute and NPR found that only nine states in the U.S. are doing the bare minimum amount of testing for the coronavirus considered necessary to begin reopening their economies. HGHI director Ashish Jha said he expects cases of COVID-19 to climb in the coming weeks. “Ultimately, I am deeply worried that four, six, eight weeks down the road, we’re going to find ourselves in the exact same place we were in in early March, and we will have to shut the economy down again,” he said.
May 7: Public health expert decries ‘total abdication of federal leadership’ on COVID-19 testing (PBS News Hour)
“The president’s own guidelines … suggest that states have to dramatically reduce the number of [coronavirus] cases and then have adequate testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure … but very few states have the kind of testing necessary to really safely reopen,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha in this interview with PBS’ Judy Woodruff. He also responded to news that the White House quashed a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document with guidelines for local authorities on how to reopen their economies, essentially leaving the planning to states. “This is a total abdication of federal leadership,” he said.
May 7: We’ve known how to make healthier buildings for decades (The Verge)
Experts say scientists already have the tools to make buildings healthier for people and less hospitable to pathogens like the coronavirus. Strategies include having as many people as possible work from home during outbreaks, upgrading ventilation and filtration systems, monitoring humidity levels, and improving office layouts. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen said that while such strategies haven’t been fully deployed until now, it’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic will change that. “In a pandemic with no silver linings, maybe there’s a glimmer of light here,” he said.
May 7: A Harvard study tying coronavirus death rates to pollution is causing an uproar in Washington (Washington Post)
Trump administration officials and industry allies have criticized a recent Harvard Chan School study that found that air pollution can make COVID-19 more deadly. They said the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, is too premature. But critics of President Trump’s environmental policies, which aim to roll back pollution rules for cars and coal plants, have championed the study. Biostatistician and study co-author Francesca Dominici acknowledged the study’s limitations but said it was important to publish the findings ahead of peer review so that “places that were highly contaminated and breathing high pollution levels could be prepared.” She said that recent updates to the study results are normal because the COVID-19 threat is evolving. “It is my responsibility as a public health professional to communicate the science as the science evolves,” she said.
May 7: Florida emerges as bright spot in COVID-19 fight (The Hill)
Florida is less of a hot spot for the coronavirus than other heavily impacted states, and is beginning the first phase of its reopening on May 11. Some experts think people’s willingness to self-quarantine may have played a role in slowing the spread of the virus in the state. Or it could be luck. “It [the virus] hasn’t gotten to some places yet, but it may still be on its way,” said Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases. He warned that Floridians should not have a false sense of security.
On this episode of WBUR’s “On Point,” experts discussed a new report suggesting that the coronavirus was circulating outside of China as early as late last year, and how that changes what is known about the virus. Epidemiologist William Hanage was one of the guests on the show.
May 7: Trump administration buries detailed CDC advice on reopening (Associated Press)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a document with step-by-step guidelines for local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the coronavirus pandemic, but it was shelved by the Trump administration. The CDC has traditionally provided guidance to the public and to local officials during public health crises, but has been mostly silent during the current pandemic. Howard Koh said, “The standard in a crisis is to turn to [the CDC] for the latest data and the latest guidance and the latest press briefing. That has not occurred, and everyone sees that.”
In this video interview, Lorelei Mucci, professor of epidemiology, and Philip Kantoff of Memorial Sloan Cancer Center discussed some of the potential overlaps between TMPRSS2—a gene associated with prostate cancer progression—and COVID-19. A recent article by Mucci, Kantoff, and colleagues explored whether TMPRSS2 plays a role in the higher prevalence of severe COVID-19 infection in men.
May 6: Harvard study says warm weather probably won’t slow COVID-19 transmission (Pix 11 News)
Summertime weather might slow the spread of the coronavirus a bit, but warm weather is not likely to play a major role, said research fellow Stephen Kissler, lead author of a recent study that looked at scenarios regarding the future spread of disease.
May 6: Trump Versus the CDC; The City Reaches Out to People With Disabilities; Dignifying Work; Mutual Aid (WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show)
May 6: Will Kentucky Be Able To Test Enough People To Reopen Safely? (WFPL Louisville)
Kentucky is planning to gradually reopen businesses beginning in mid-May. The state has not met a White House guideline for reopening—14 days of declining cases of COVID-19—but Gov. Andy Beshear says that the state will be able to meet the White House’s goal of testing 2% of the total population per month, which will make it safe for people to return to work. Health policy researcher Thomas Tsai said that if the number of positive cases increases after reopening, then social distancing may have to be put in place again.
Some countries report that they have no coronavirus cases. Most nations with no cases are isolated island chains in the Pacific. Health policy expert Thomas Tsai said the lack of cases on these islands is due to the fact that countries in Asia were quickly locked down, preventing travel and tourism.
May 6: 25 Investigates: Experts say we need more testing to safely reopen Mass. economy (Boston 25 News)
Although Massachusetts has greatly expanded its coronavirus testing capacity, some say more is still needed to shed light on the true infection rate. “Now we are at a stage where we can think about opening up and increasing the number of tests and changing our whole approach to testing, so we’re actually casting a much wider net,” said health policy expert Thomas Tsai.
As the U.S. begins to reopen its economy, hospital intensive care units (ICUs) across the country still need more capacity to handle new COVID-19 cases, according to a new analysis from Harvard Chan School researchers and colleagues. “Without efforts to slow the spread of the virus, hospitals, especially ICU beds in major cities around the U.S., will likely be overwhelmed,” said study co-author Ruoran Li, a doctoral student. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, senior author of the study, said, “The data I’ve seen from China indicates that patients stay in intensive care for quite a long time with this disease, so it’s not just the number of people in intensive care, but the duration of their stay” that could overwhelm the system.
May 6: Evidence mounts that outside is safer when it comes to COVID-19 (The Hill)
Experts say that the risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus is much lower outside than inside. “It definitely spreads more indoors than outdoors,” said infectious diseases expert Roger Shapiro. “The virus droplets disperse so rapidly in the wind that they become a nonfactor if you’re not really very close to someone outdoors—let’s say within six feet.”
May 6: Florida doesn’t have enough coronavirus contact tracers. Here’s how you can help. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)
People who have symptoms that may be COVID-19 should try to get tested, but in the meantime, experts say it’s a good idea for them to do their own contact tracing—to start telling family and friends to take precautions, such as wearing a mask indoors around them or completely isolating. “To make contact tracing useful, you have to get ahead of the virus; you have to identify people when they’re sick and tell their contacts to isolate quickly,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina.
May 6: The next phase of America’s coronavirus failure has begun (Axios)
A number of U.S. states are beginning to reopen their economies, even though the nation is still seeing roughly 30,000 new coronavirus cases each day, there’s not enough testing, contact tracing, or capacity to isolate the sick, and there’s no treatment or vaccine. Experts say that some places that have built up their public health infrastructure may do better in the coming months. “We may nationally be in for a nightmare, but it’s going to be much worse in some places than others,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha.
“Social bubbles”—small groups of people allowed to see each other socially outside of their own households—are being floated as a way to ease COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Some experts question the idea. Epidemiologist William Hanage said that social bubbles are “certainly a component of how, once the initial outbreak is under control, measures could be refined.” But the bigger the group, the greater the probability of infection, he said.
May 5: Op-ed: COVID-19 shows it’s time for businesses to make community health their business (Miami Herald)
In this opinion piece, John Quelch, professor in health policy and management, and program Leila Roumani argue that the COVID-19 pandemic makes clear that business leaders should treat community health as a business imperative.
May 5: Op-ed: Parks are essential — especially during the coronavirus pandemic (Boston Globe)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, parks are more important than ever, according to this opinion piece co-authored by former Harvard Chan School student Julia Africa. “We must shift our thinking to repurpose public spaces during times of crisis, restore their ecologies when the crisis abates, and adapt our parks to better accommodate urban populations (especially those who have been historically underserved) for the future,” the authors wrote.
It could be a while before people are comfortable with air travel during the coronavirus pandemic, say experts. While some airlines are considering issuing informal “immunity passports” to passengers who can prove they’ve already been infected, HGHI director Ashish Jha said that antibody tests may be inaccurate, and it’s not clear that having antibodies means a person can’t be reinfected. Temperature checks at airports are also problematic because people with COVID-19 are sometimes asymptomatic. Without aggressive testing, tracing, and isolation, he said it will be challenging for airlines to reassure travelers that it’s safe to fly.
May 5: Video: U.S. is in for a bumpy ride with virus, says doctor (MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”)
In this television interview, HGHI director Ashish Jha said that the coronavirus will not “disappear over the summer. We’re in … for a bumpy ride—unfortunately, a lot of people getting sick and dying over the upcoming weeks and months.” He called the gradual economic reopening in many U.S. states “a grand experiment, and unfortunately the cost of getting the experiment wrong is that people are going to lose [their] lives and we’re going to have to shut our economy down again.” He stressed that significantly more coronavirus testing is needed, and that states—realizing that the federal government is not going to help with that—are slowly making progress on their own.
May 5: How to deal with coronavirus-related stress: Harvard expert gives tips (Boston Herald)
Many are under significant stress because of the coronavirus. Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen offered some ideas on ways to cope: For parents, pick battles with children carefully and model good mental health behaviors; consider extra phone calls, video chats, and small gifts for elderly people who are isolated; and take personal time for activities such as listening to a podcast or taking a relaxing shower.
May 5: Op-ed: End stigma behind mental illness so front-line doctors can get help (USA Today)
In this opinion piece, Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams and Arianna Huffington called for more support for the mental, physical, and emotional health of frontline health care workers. Citing the recent suicide of emergency room doctor Lorna Breen—who had been dealing for weeks with severely ill COVID-19 patients at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital—and struggles faced by other frontline workers, they urged hospitals and health care organizations to recognize and address burnout, to support health care workers in prioritizing their own well-being, and to remove stigma around seeking mental health treatment.
May 5: Harvard Public Health Expert: At Least 40 States ‘Are Either Flat Or Going Up’ In Terms Of Coronavirus Cases (WGBH Greater Boston)
With some U.S. states beginning to ease restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, HGHI director Ashish Jha expects that deaths will rise. “Everybody agrees that without a big ramp-up on testing, and tracing, and isolation, if we relax restrictions, [the] number of cases are going to go up, [and the] number of deaths are going to go up,” he said.
May 5: Are we now coming down from the coronavirus plateau? (Boston Globe)
Hospital chiefs and epidemiologists are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are slowly going down in Massachusetts. Emergency preparedness expert Paul Biddinger said, “For the foreseeable future we’re watching our [emergency department] presentations and our hospital admissions very, very closely in case there is another wave. But we’re eager to be able to accommodate the care that’s still needed, and in fact are very concerned about the number of people that have deferred their care during this outbreak.”
May 5: At the center of the outbreak (Harvard Gazette)
Katharine Robb, DrPH ’19, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, part of Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovations, has been studying housing and health in Chelsea, Mass. In this Q&A, she noted that overcrowded conditions in Chelsea make it hard to maintain social distancing and proper sanitary practices to curb the spread of COVID-19. She added that many Chelsea residents living in overcrowded or substandard conditions are more likely to have underlying health conditions, putting them at higher risk from the disease. “Pandemics like this really expose so many underlying vulnerabilities and shine a light on the unacceptable disparities within our communities,” she said.
May 5: Bubble bursts on Cuomo’s hope of ‘immunity’ testing (Politico)
Although political leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had hoped that antibody tests could show that people previously infected with the coronavirus had developed immunity, experts say there’s little evidence that having antibodies prevents people from being re-infected or from passing the virus on to others. Studies to show if antibodies confer immunity “are beginning now,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina. But they are going to take some time.” Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said that “almost everyone” he knows in the field is working on the problem.
May 5: Coronavirus: Why is there a US backlash to masks? (BBC)
Although health experts encourage the use of face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, some Americans are pushing back against this advice. Experts say that part of the problem is that there are mixed messages from the government—the Centers for Disease Control advises Americans to wear face masks, but President Trump said the advice is “voluntary” and that he wouldn’t wear one. There’s also a tradition of American resistance to government mandates. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen said that wearing a mask indicates social trust. “If you’re going for a walk and no one is around, I still think you should have your mask with you,” he said. “It should be seen as a courtesy if somebody else approaches that you pull your mask up.”
May 5: Trump Skips Face Mask at Honeywell Mask-Making Plant (Bloomberg)
Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on April 3 that Americans wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, President Trump has said he doesn’t need to wear one, and he didn’t during recent tour of a Honeywell plant in Arizona making N95 respirators for health care workers. Health communication expert Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath said that the president’s behavior, contradicting the government’s own recommendations, confuses people. “At the very worst, it might even cause them to question if these rules apply to them or if the message is really that critical,” he said.
May 5: New Studies Add to Evidence that Children May Transmit the Coronavirus (New York Times)
New evidence suggests that children can transmit the coronavirus, which means that, if schools reopen in the fall in the U.S., COVID-19 cases could soar, according to experts. Although one recent study suggested that children play only a small role in the spread of the coronavirus, epidemiologist William Hanage said that the study was not well designed. “Assumptions that children are not involved in the epidemiology, because they do not have severe illness, are exactly the kind of assumption that you really, really need to question in the face of a pandemic,” he said. “Because if it’s wrong, it has really pretty disastrous consequences.”
May 5: Viral Post Alleging Obama-Era Device Tax Caused Current PPE Shortage Is Way Off (Politifact )
A recent Facebook post claimed that President Obama had signed a “medical appliance tax bill” into law and that the law was forcing companies to manufacture medical devices and personal protective equipment overseas. Politifact said the claim is false. Although there was a 2.3% medical device excise tax set in January 2013 as part of the Affordable Care Act, the tax was designed deliberately to avoid forcing manufacturers to move their production overseas, according to John McDonough, professor of the practice of public health. The tax was put on hold in 2016 and repealed by President Trump in 2019.
May 5: The Medicaid Cliff (Tradeoffs)
This podcast explored what might happen to Medicaid, the public health assistance program for low-income people and those with disabilities, during the current economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the Great Recession, states were forced to trim Medicaid budgets and many people lost benefits. Although data from that period is minimal, health economist Benjamin Sommers has studied what happened when Medicaid expanded under the Affordable Care Act, and found that people with access to the program were more likely to be financially stable and healthier. His research suggests that, during the current downturn, “there will be substantial health impacts if millions of people lose coverage.”
Scientists and politicians in countries around the world are grappling with decisions regarding COVID-19 restrictions, and are trying to strike a balance between the need to protect health and the need to protect the economy. Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy, say the primary focus should be on science. “If we want COVID-19 to be a bad memory and not a current nightmare, scientific advice must be prioritized in all political decisions, period,” she said. President Trump, on the other hand, has openly supported people protesting lockdowns, sometimes contradicting his own scientific experts. “President Trump cannot control his political instinct,” said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis. “In his view, if this doesn’t change, he’s going to lose the presidency.”
May 4: Putting health first in the post-COVID-19 world (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Article by Renzo Guinto, DrPH ’20.
May 4: Social distance makes the heart grow lonelier (Harvard Gazette)
Experts say there are ways to cope with loneliness stemming from COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions. Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen called loneliness “toxic to health, not just mental health but physical health.” Jeremy Nobel, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Health Policy and Management, recently founded The UnLonely Project and created a website called “Stuck at Home (together)” to provide free, arts-based support for people struggling with isolation. He said that being creative can have positive health effects, especially when those creations are shared. “Making art even a doodle or an arranged bouquet of flowers, gives you an artifact you can share with another human being and that person can have some sense of you,” he said. “It’s reliably powerful, like closing an electric circuit, and both people are connected.”
The White House’s “testing blueprint”—issued April 26 as an addendum to its guidelines for reopening the U.S.—falls short on details about how to ramp up testing for COVID-19, wrote HGHI director Ashish Jha in this op-ed. He said that much more testing is needed if the country is to safely reopen. “The Guidelines for Opening Up America Again ask states to move through the plan’s phases for opening depending on their numbers of cases,” he wrote. “Yet the only way to know the true number of cases in any state is by implementing ubiquitous, on-demand testing.” The U.S. is currently performing roughly 200,000 COVID-19 tests per day, but a minimum of 500,000 is needed, Jha wrote.
May 4: Tucker Carlson says coronavirus isn’t as deadly as we thought. Experts disagree (Politifact)
Although Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on April 27 that the coronavirus isn’t as deadly as originally thought, experts said his statement was misleading. That’s because it’s hard to know exactly how many cases—and how many deaths—from COVID-19 are occurring. “Every responsible epidemiologist has been saying that the number of cases is certainly more than those we know about, especially in the U.S., where testing has been inadequate,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch.
May 4: Contact tracing, explained (Vox)
Contact tracing will be a key factor in preventing future spikes of COVID-19, say experts. Contact tracers are “disease detectives” who interview people diagnosed with the disease, find out who they’ve been in contact with, and then inform those people they may have been exposed and advise them to self-isolate and get tested. Before the pandemic began, there were roughly 2,000 contact tracers working for state and local health departments in the U.S., but experts say between 100,000 and 300,000 will be needed to adequately track COVID-19. “I tend to be somewhat on the pessimistic side about contact tracing as a general control strategy,” said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. “What we are pretty sure about is that contact tracing works well when you have relatively few cases, you have the resources to do it and when you have even fewer cases that are unknown. Neither of those is true right now in most parts of the United States.”
May 4: For communities of color, air pollution may heighten coronavirus threat (Bay Journal)
Recent research from Harvard Chan School suggests that people who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. They tend to be low-income individuals and people of color, and they are more likely to have existing health issues that put them at greater risk from the disease, according to experts. “COVID amplifies the injustices in our society,” said Harvard C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein.
May 4: Trump cheers on governors even as they ignore White House coronavirus guidelines in race to reopen (Washington Post)
A number of U.S. states are relaxing social distancing guidelines aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 even though they haven’t met benchmarks set by the White House to ensure safety during the pandemic—and they’re being encouraged by President Trump. HGHI director Ashish Jha said that most governors who’ve decided to lift restrictions are not following the White House guidelines, such as robust testing for frontline workers and a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases. “The first part of the criteria is sustained decline,” he said. “And we don’t see that.”
May 4: Study: Higher humidity helps reduce transmission of seasonal viruses (Santa Fe New Mexican )
Although it’s possible that the spread of COVID-19 could slow in the summer, it is likely to pick up again every fall and winter, according to a study from Harvard Chan School researchers. “We can expect more people to get infected from year to year,” said study co-author Stephen Kissler, a research fellow. “The big question is whether the severity [of that infection] will change. Over time, the severity of the illness often declines because of a partial immunity that we build up.”
May 4: Seattle Has a Sane Plan to End Lockdown. It Might Not Work. (The Daily Beast)
Washington state is pursuing a cautious strategy as it begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions, including plans to continually evaluate adjustments and make changes if necessary. Health policy expert Thomas Tsai said that the state is using the right approach. “It needs to be a dynamic process, with the understanding that you may need to take a step back if testing data show cases starting to increase again,” he said. As for other states, he warned that even if they have “flattened their curves”—kept their hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients—“there will be a new wave of non-COVID patients who have been deferring their care coming back to the hospitals. The demand is going to change dramatically after states reopen.”
After two months of an economic shutdown in the U.S. to slow the spread of COVID-19, President Trump and a number of governors are focused on reopening businesses. But experts say that most states ending their shutdowns have not met thresholds set by the White House for testing, tracing, and a sustained drop in new COVID-19 cases. Epidemiologist Michael Mina cautioned against opening up too quickly. Any one of thousands of transmission chains “could potentially ignite new outbreaks,” he said. “That’s how a second wave can potentially be more disruptive, more damaging and larger than the initial phase of the epidemic.”
May 4: This Mental Health App Is Tailor-Made for Your Pandemic Woes (Wired)
A mental health app called Covid Coach, from the National Center for PTSD, is aimed at helping people manage stress during the pandemic. The app offers breathing exercises, guidance for dealing with loneliness and irritability, and resources for getting help with problems such as substance abuse or domestic violence. Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen said that a key ingredient to creating PTSD is uncertainty — “having stressors where it’s uncertain, uncontrolled, and unpredictable” — which, in the case of COVID-19, stems from the fact that it’s unclear what might happen next during the pandemic.
Many people will experience stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some, such as frontline health care workers or those who lose loved ones to the disease without being able to be with them, will go through trauma, say experts. Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen described some of the mental health impacts to expect from the pandemic, as well as some coping mechanisms.
Any plan to reopen schools in September must include plans to test students for COVID-19 and keep up with social distancing, such as eliminating assemblies and possibly fall sports, said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “I’m not Pollyannish about this,” he said. “If we are super aggressive on testing, if we put into place moderate social distancing when possible, if we have a therapy that works for people who get very sick … if we do all that, I think we can keep schools open all year. It’s going to be very hard to pull off, but we are more than capable to pull it off.”
May 4: Op-ed: ‘Serology’ is the new coronavirus buzzword. Here’s why it matters. (Washington Post)
Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch explained why serologic studies for COVID-19, which determine whether people carry antibodies to the virus, are so important. Such studies may be able to shed light on who is immune to COVID-19 — information that could help inform decisions about who can return to work — and on why disadvantaged groups have higher rates of disease, he wrote.
With research labs shut down across the U.S. because of COVID-19, scientists are grappling with the loss of experiments, and worrying about future funding and their career paths. They say that, for some labs, it will take months to a year for research to fully resume. Eric Rubin, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), said that he expects there will be a significant amount of work — including retesting equipment and regrowing bacterial cultures — before experiments will be able to get off the ground again in his laboratory, which focuses on Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
May 4: The Key to Handling Stress and COVID-19 (SFGate)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams, outlines the links between aging, chronic illness, low-grade inflammation, and low-grade anxiety and depression, and argues that these factors can increase people’s risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. To reduce the risk, the authors suggested that complementary practices such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can help by calming anxiety, reducing the stress response, regularizing the heartbeat, and lowering blood pressure — all benefits that have been associated with reducing low-grade inflammation.
May 4: What If Covid-19 and Fly Both Flare Up This Fall? (Elemental)
Infectious disease experts are worried that there will be a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall that coincides with the flu season. “Once we start opening things back up, we’re going to have a lot of individual cases that are still brewing under the surface,” said epidemiologist Michael Mina. “If we don’t put out all the flames, then we’ll have this smoldering number of people that will all be able to ignite outbreaks at once.” Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said the health care system could be even more overwhelmed than it has been this spring. If the flu and another COVID-19 wave hit at the same time, it’s possible that one viral infection could prevent a person from getting another, said Mina. It’s also possible that people could catch both viruses. On the positive side, “If we take aggressive measures” against any possible reemergence of coronavirus this fall, “we could inadvertently prevent wide-scale transmission of influenza,” he said.
May 4: All In This Together, Yet Alone In Our Grief (Thrive Global)
Psychiatric epidemiologist Karestan Koenen wrote about the many losses we are suffering because of COVID-19. In addition to being unable to adequately mourn deaths in our families, we are also dealing with universal losses — the “stunning loss of life … the loss of 30 million jobs, multitudes facing bankruptcy and eviction, and nationwide cancelations of graduations, weddings, bat mitzvahs and other rites of passage,” Koenen wrote. She called for “leadership at the national and local level that acknowledges the full extent of our collective grief — perhaps a national day of remembrance and healing.”
May 3: Maine reopening with ‘bare minimum’ testing strategy (Portland Press Herald)
Maine’s phased plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions and reopen its economy relies on detecting and isolating people infected with the disease, but experts say the state’s testing plan isn’t extensive enough. Maine plans to boost its testing capacity from about 1,000 tests per day to 2,000 to 3,000. But health policy expert Thomas Tsai said he thinks Maine would need to test about 8,800 each day to keep the disease in check. He called that number “the bare minimum” requirement.
May 3: Massachusetts researchers are on front lines of coronavirus antibody testing (Boston Globe)
Antibody testing, or serology testing — which can show if someone has been infected with the coronavirus — is key to measuring the reach of the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially shedding light on whether or not people become immune after contracting the disease. Epidemiologist Michael Mina and colleagues are launching serology surveys to provide crucial data. He warned against direct-to-consumer antibody tests, given that many of them have been found unreliable. “People shouldn’t consider them as anything more than a toy,” he said.
May 2: How to talk with preschoolers about coronavirus? Experts weigh in (Boston Globe)
When communicating with kids under age 5 about the coronavirus, it’s best to use factual terms like “germ” or “virus,” limit exposure to adult sources of news, and emphasize predictability and routine for both parents and kids, says Archana Basu, a psychologist and a research associate at Harvard Chan School.
May 2: She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next? (New York Times)
Author, world health policy analyst, and former Harvard Chan School fellow Laurie Garrett thinks that COVID-19 will remain a crisis for about 36 months. “That’s my best-case scenario,” she told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Garrett has written extensively about the threat of pandemics. As for possible treatments for COVID-19, such as the drug remdesivir, Garrett said, “It’s not curative. We need either a cure or a vaccine.”
May 1: All the Coronavirus Terminology You Need to Know (Elemental)
This primer on coronavirus terminology defines terms such as “aerosols,” “cytokine storm,” “herd immunity,” and “viral load.” Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen and epidemiologist Michael Mina were both quoted.
May 1: Amazon has launched a pilot COVID-19 testing program for warehouse employees (Business Insider)
With some Amazon warehouse facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, the company has reportedly begun in-house testing for some employees. But Amazon, by pursuing its own testing, is competing with governments for finite testing resources, said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “I’m also not sure it’s super useful for every private company to build a testing infrastructure for their own employees,” he said. “That raises a whole set of different issues, like sick people not working at Amazon can’t get tested, but healthy people working at Amazon can get tested.”
May 1: The Critical Condition of Health Care in 2020 (U.S. News & World Report)
With people losing their jobs — and their health insurance — due to the fiscal collapse caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, voters in battleground states may seek an alternative to President Trump if he can’t improve the situation, according to Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis.
Numerous topics about COVID-19 — such as how COVID-19 deaths compare to influenza deaths, or how likely it is to get COVID-19 from airborne transmission — were discussed in a May 1, 2020 C-SPAN interview featuring immunologist Sarah Fortune.
South Korea has been more successful than the U.S. at fighting the coronavirus outbreak, thanks to widespread testing and contact tracing, cheap and effective care for those who were infected, and trust in the government, say experts. “We had a chance to contain this outbreak, but we didn’t,” said HGHI director Ashish Jha. “And as a result of that testing failure, over 60,000 Americans are dead and our economy has been shut down. It didn’t have to be this way.”