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In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories from September 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant makes clear the global nature of the pandemic. “This pandemic started as a global crisis, and it will be resolved as a global phenomenon as well,” she said. “The reality is that the more cases of COVID, the more opportunity for the virus to mutate.”
November 30: What four experts are saying about Omicron, the new COVID variant (Boston Globe)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, quoted.
November 30: CAA Launches Interactive Community For Health Care Workers (Leak Herald)
Dean Michelle Williams quoted.
November 29: How a Harvard-affiliated lab in Botswana became the first to identify the Omicron variant (Boston Globe)
Sikhulile Moyo, director at the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory and a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, described his role in identifying the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
November 29: 4 big questions about the new omicron variant (Vox)
More data is needed to better understand the potential threat from the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, say experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, were quoted.
November 29: New variant raising concern, but not panic, ahead of holidays (Boston25 News)
Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, noted that current vaccines are likely to offer some protection against serious symptoms of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus. “But we really don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s just still too early to say with this particular variant, because it really does have a large number of mutations and it’s quite different than the Delta variant.”
November 29: What We Know (And Don’t Know) About The Omicron Variant (Consider This from NPR)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed the new omicron coronavirus variant, which has “a very large number of mutations, way more than what you’d expect.” He added, “We’re still scrambling trying to figure out what sort of beast we’re dealing with.”
November 29: Keeping an eye on Omicron (Harvard Gazette)
Mary Bushman, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and co-author of a recent paper that modeled the impact of hypothetical variants on populations, answered questions about the latest variant, Omicron.
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, discussed his research that found that office workers’ performance improved when the air quality in their offices was better. Now, companies are increasingly looking to improve indoor air quality. “We should expect clean air in our offices, just as we expect to have clean water coming out of the tap,” said Allen.
November 27: Does omicron pose a risk to the vaccinated? Too early to tell, epidemiologist says (NPR’s All Things Considered)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that, right now, there’s much we don’t know about the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, such as how transmissible it is and whether it can sidestep vaccine-generated or natural immunity to the virus. “That uncertainty is something which a lot of people find it hard to deal with,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s part of living through a pandemic.”
November 26: Zimbabwean-born Scientist Credited With Discovery Of New Coronavirus Variant (Pindula)
Sikhulile Moyo, laboratory director at the Botswana Harvard Partnership and a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, and his team were the first to sequence B.1.1.529, or Omicron, the newest variant of the novel coronavirus.
November 26: New Virus Variant Stokes Concern but Vaccines Still Likely to Work (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even if the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, proves to be more transmissible than other variants, it’s likely that vaccines will still protect against it, both by slowing the virus’ spread and reducing the likelihood that infected people will need hospitalization.
November 26: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus (Washington Post)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus “is certainly a curveball. But exactly how serious it is remains to be seen.”
November 26: How variants like omicron develop and what makes them variants ‘of concern’ (NBC News)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the major concerns about the omicron variant is that it appears to be at least as transmissible as the delta variant, and has a large number of mutations in the crucial spike protein, which is targeted by vaccines.
The new omicron variant of the coronavirus “raises concerns though it is not time to panic,” said Eric McNulty, associate director of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative and an instructor at Harvard Chan School. “We do not yet know a lot. People should take a deep breath and listen to the scientists.”
November 24: Is it time to get serious about masking inside again in Massachusetts? (Boston Globe)
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Massachusetts, experts say it would be wise to return to indoor masking in public spaces. “In this long and protracted COVID battle, prematurely loosening mask requirements has allowed the enemy virus to continue to wreak havoc,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and Massachusetts public health commissioner. “Until the pandemic is declared behind us, all options about strengthening indoor mask guidance should be back on the table.”
November 22: New UMass Amherst/WCVB poll on children being vaccinated against COVID-19 (WCVB)
A new poll found that a strong majority of Massachusetts parents would support a vaccine mandate for children in K-12 schools. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that kids are going to be exposed to what the coronavirus looks like either from the vaccine or from the virus itself. “We know from all the data that we have available that exposing them through the vaccine is still the safer option,” he said.
November 22: COVID Variant That Spreads Easily, Evades Vaccines Could Have ‘Severe Consequences’: Study (Newsweek)
COVID-19 variants that are more transmissible are more dangerous than those that could partially evade vaccines, according to a new Harvard Chan School study. Co-author Mary Bushman, postdoctoral research fellow, was quoted.
November 22: The Trouble With the Case Curve During the Holidays (New York Times)
November 22: Inside the C.D.C.’s Pandemic ‘Weather Service’ (New York Times)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, was quoted in this article about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, for which he is director of science. Lipsitch discussed the Center’s work, which will involve collecting data and improving models regarding the spread of infectious diseases.
November 21: Nightly News Full Broadcast (November 21st) (NBC News) (Segment with Harvard Chan School’s Stephen Kissler at 8:10)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was interviewed about staying safe from COVID-19 during Thanksgiving. “We’re planning to take a rapid test the morning of [the holiday],” he said of his own celebration. “Since we’re all vaccinated, it definitely helps, but it’s still possible for people to have breakthrough infections and to spread infection to others.”
November 21: Is Delta the last Covid ‘super variant’? (The Guardian)
Scientists are worried that the Delta variant of the coronavirus, now dominant across the globe, could be overtaken by an even more dangerous variant. With high levels of the virus continuing to circulate, the chances increase that dangerous new variants will emerge, according to experts. “You want to limit the number of opportunities that the virus gets to roll the dice,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
November 21: Thanksgiving health and safety (CBS News)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed ways to spend Thanksgiving together safely this year, including being vaccinated, taking rapid tests, gathering outdoors, and opening windows.
November 19: ‘Still in a purgatory.’ COVID numbers have risen in Mass. ahead of holidays and winter weather (Boston Globe)
COVID-19 cases are increasing in Massachusetts. “We are still in a purgatory, unfortunately, and no one wants to hear it, but we have to double down on our public health commitment,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and Massachusetts public health commissioner.
November 19: Long COVID sufferers face physical pain, physician skepticism (Harvard Gazette)
Patient advocates and health care experts gathered virtually at Harvard Chan School to discuss how best to address the debilitating symptoms of long COVID.
November 19: COVID and mental health stress: No one is immune, says Harvard professor, ex-WHO expert (Providence Journal)
Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, was a guest on “Story in the Public Square,” a national public-TV and SiriusXM show that is a partnership of the Providence Journal/USA Today network and Salve Regina University’s Pell Center. He spoke about how the COVID pandemic has affected the mental health of millions around the world, and about the importance of talking openly about mental health struggles and seeking professional help if necessary.
November 19: Experts Advise Caution Around At-Risk Individuals During Holiday Gatherings (CBS News)
“If you take some pretty simple steps, you can actually get together with your family indoors without a mask” this holiday season, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He added, “If you’re going to a Thanksgiving party with older, vulnerable relatives, I do encourage you to make sure that you’re vaccinated, to try to avoid becoming infected in the runup, and to take a rapid test before you get in there.”
November 17: Overdose deaths hit record high during pandemic (CBS Evening News)
“The pandemic has been in many ways a perfect storm,” driving up drug addiction, according to Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management. “We have a lot of work to do to expand access to lifesaving treatments like naloxone or buprenorphine, which can really save lives in addiction, but are not widely available for people that need them.”
November 17: Callers to global helplines voiced similar pandemic worries (ABC News)
Callers to helplines during the pandemic focused on fears of infection, loneliness, and physical health, according to a new analysis. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, who was not involved in the study, said that analyzing helpline data is “an incredibly creative way to assess mental health in the pandemic.”
November 15: School of Public Health Panel Discusses Current State of Covid-19 Pandemic (Harvard Crimson)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were among experts discussing the pandemic at a recent forum. Corbett emphasized the safety of the vaccine for young children. Hanage said that while “we cannot be sure” of the future of COVID-19, it’s likely that people will continue to get sick and die, but in far smaller numbers.
November 12: COVID-19 infections appear to be creeping up again in Massachusetts (Boston.com)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that COVID-19 cases are “plateauing, rather than disappearing” in Massachusetts. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “Even if we’re in a less woody part of the woods, we’re not out of the woods yet.”
November 12: When can kids take off their masks in school? Here’s what some experts say (NPR)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was among a number of experts offering opinions on when children can take their masks off in schools. He thinks the masks can come off on January 1, 2022, once younger children have a chance to get vaccinated.
November 9: Lessons from COVID-19 for the next pandemic: We need better data on workplace transmission (The Conversation)
In this op-ed, Letitia Davis, a research epidemiologist and an instructor at Harvard Chan School, and co-authors argued that, during the pandemic, public health agencies around the world failed to collect the information needed to truly understand the role of work and workplaces in the spread of the virus. “Without better work data about people who have tested positive, we remain in the dark about where and how to target prevention measures for a potentially important route of transmission,” they wrote.
November 9: ‘Mask Up, America’ Made Sense in 2020. Now? Not So Much. (Washington Post)
With the menace of COVID-19 subsiding, some experts are suggesting that mask mandates don’t always make sense any more. Said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, “This isn’t about whether masks work … but we now have other tools in place.”
November 8: Not all Covid waves look the same. Here’s a snapshot of the Delta surge (STAT)
Geography and vaccination status have been playing a key role in who’s getting seriously ill from COVID-19 in the U.S. “We’re seeing this kind of percolation of the virus, flaring up in unvaccinated networks, and then tricking through the vaccinated ones,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He noted that “unvaccinated people tend to hang out with each other. And that means that you’ve got sort of stuttering transmission chains, which occasionally blow up.”
November 8: Pfizer-BioNTech expected to seek authorization for coronavirus booster for people 18 and older (Washington Post)
Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, quoted.
Improving air in office buildings can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases as well as improve cognitive function, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “I don’t think business people realize the power of buildings to not only keep people safe from disease but to lead to better performance,” he said.
November 4: HSPH Prof. Awarded Federal Employee of the Year for Developing Moderna Vaccine (Harvard Crimson)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, was honored for her work developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while she was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health.
November 4: With COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, a chance to promote health equity across all ages (Boston Globe)
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old children should be designed with equity and caregiver support at the forefront, in order to prevent racial disparities in vaccination, wrote Monica Wang, adjunct associate professor of health policy and management, in this opinion piece.
November 3: Some Schools Are Dropping Mask Mandates. Should Yours? (Education Week)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, thinks it’s time for a more nuanced approach to mask policy, given that COVID-19 case rates are dropping and vaccines are becoming available for all school-age groups. “We need to have these conversations,” he said. “We can’t keep mask mandates in place indefinitely as a solution to this pandemic.”
November 3: COVID vaccines for kids are coming – and so is more misinformation (KUNC)
With the FDA’s approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5-11 years old, experts expect a wave of misinformation from anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that parents shouldn’t trust social media but someone knowledgeable and trustworthy—like their family physician—to help them answer any questions they have about the vaccines.
November 3: Analysis-Country by country, scientists eye beginning of an end to the COVID-19 pandemic (Reuters)
Experts think that COVID-19 will likely transition to an endemic disease in 2022 and beyond, with timelines varying across the globe. “The transition is going to be different in each place because it’s going to be driven by the amount of immunity in the population from natural infection and of course, vaccine distribution, which is variable … from county by county to country by country,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, and director of science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics.
November 3: Preventing future pandemics starts with recognizing links between human and animal health (The Conversation)
Two researchers who serve on a science task force convened by Harvard Chan School, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and Harvard Chan C-CHANGE, wrote that preventing future pandemics requires understanding how human behaviors, such as deforestation, fossil fuel combustion, and conflict, contribute to the risk of viruses spilling over from animals to humans.
November 2: Covid-19 and Climate Change: Crises of Structural Racism (Science Direct)
An editorial co-authored by James Healy, MPH ’21, and Gaurab Basu, a health equity fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), contends that any solution that addresses the health crisis of climate change must primarily be grounded in addressing structural racism.
November 2: Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan (Twin Cities PBS)
November 2: Why scientists worldwide are watching UK COVID infections (Nature)
Scientists are closely watching the COVID-19 situation in the U.K., which is relying on high vaccine coverage and public responsibility to control the spread of the disease. Some experts think that the country’s ongoing high level of infections will continue as long as most COVID-19 restrictions remain lifted, although the country’s COVID-19 death rate is relatively low. Said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “The amount of infection that is currently going on in the U.K would be expected to have much worse consequences if replicated elsewhere.”
November 1: America Has Lost the Plot on COVID (The Atlantic)
The U.S. doesn’t have a coherent strategy for dealing with endemic COVID-19, according to experts. “This is the point at which we then have to start looking at ourselves and asking the hard question: Exactly how hard do we want to work to help how many people?” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. Added Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, “We’re sleepwalking into policy because we’re not setting goals.”
November 1: No easy answers for parents about COVID vaccines for children under 12 (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, quoted.
November 1: Global Covid-19 Death Toll Tops Five Million (Wall Street Journal)
The huge death toll from COVID-19 shows that the threat the virus poses to public health hasn’t been exaggerated. “The tendency to underestimate the virus has been a crucial factor in the road to this point,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.