Coronavirus news – October 2021

For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.

In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 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:

October 31: As Covid-19 deaths cross 5 million, hope for a battered world (The Straits Times)

Access to vaccines and therapeutics could help contain the COVID-19 pandemic going forward, but some countries will do better than others, according to experts. Noted Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, “Countries with excess vaccines must share them with other parts of the world and must build capacity for producing accessible vaccines in underprivileged parts of the globe,” he said. “If we are going to keep this virus at bay, we must do so as a global community.”

October 31: Diet-related diseases pose a major risk for Covid-19. But the U.S. overlooks them. (Politico)

Studies suggest obesity, diabetes, and hypertension lead to worse COVID-19 outcomes, but the U.S., unlike some other countries, has not been taking steps to encourage healthier lifestyles or limit access to unhealthy food. Jerold Mande, adjunct professor of nutrition, said that successive administrations’ lack of a strong push for diet-related efforts to reduce Americans’ risk of chronic health conditions suggests that “we’re not serious” about addressing the problem.

October 29: Ecuadorian scientists face long prison sentences in politically charged case over COVID-19 tests (Science)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was quoted about the quality of COVID-19 tests that are at the center of a criminal case involving two Ecuadorian scientists.

October 29: Experts urge parents to get kids vaccinated against COVID-19, say their own kids will get shots (Boston Globe)

Federal regulators could approve a COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 as early as the week of Nov. 8. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was among a number of experts saying they will definitely have their children get the vaccine. “My 9 year old will be getting the vaccine on the first day we can,” he tweeted. “No hesitation.”

October 28: Public health messaging lessons for the next pandemic (Axios)

As scientific knowledge about the coronavirus has rapidly changed over the course of the pandemic, public health agencies have struggled to keep up and to effectively communicate the uncertainties to the public. “What people need to understand is that science is ever-changing and mutable,” said Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication. “All knowledge is partial knowledge, and [the pandemic] is an illustration of that.”

October 27: An FDA adviser said we need to give kids vaccines to fully understand their safety. Here’s the crucial context. (Washington Post)

This article described how the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee weighed the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 5-11, ultimately recommending emergency use authorization of the vaccines. 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 advisory committee, was quoted.

October 27: Should I Mix or Match My Booster Shot? (New York Times)

Asaf Bitton, associate professor of health care policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management and executive director of Ariadne Labs, was one of several experts offering advice for eligible adults on which COVID-19 booster shot to get.

October 25: Harvard professors warn that war-torn countries will miss global vaccine goals in 2022 (Harvard Gazette)

Countries in conflict will not meet the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of their populations against COVID-19 by mid-2022, according to experts who spoke at a Harvard Chan School panel. One of the panelists, Madeline Drexler, visiting scientist at Harvard Chan and former editor of Harvard Public Health magazine, said that the biggest hurdle is a vaccine shortage. She added that misinformation, political lies, and the anti-vaccine movement have made it tougher to administer vaccines in conflict zones.

October 24: How Puerto Rico became the most vaccinated place in America (CNN)

Experts advising Puerto Rico’s government say that the island’s high vaccination rate—just over 73%—may be due to the fact that vaccination wasn’t politicized and that people felt the urgent need to avoid another catastrophe, having recently been through hurricanes, earthquakes, and political and fiscal crises. Rafael Irizarry, professor of biostatistics, half-joked that Puerto Rico’s many drugstores may have helped. “There is a Walgreens on like every corner,” he said. “Everywhere you go, they have everything you need. Rum. Coffee. You get your fireworks and then you go get a vaccine.”

October 23: How Public Health Took Part in Its Own Downfall (The Atlantic)

Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, quoted.

October 22: Without firm school mask mandate deadlines, ‘we can sleepwalk into indefinite masking,’ says Harvard professor (CNBC)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, called for setting deadlines for lifting masking requirements in schools, especially as U.S. drug regulators are poised to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for kids aged 5 to 11.

October 22: Pfizer’s COVID vaccine appears safe and effective for children 5-11, new data shows (USA Today)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted

October 21: New study reveals why Provincetown did not become a COVID super-spreader event (Boston Globe)

Cape Cod’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate and quick public health measures likely prevented an outbreak in Provincetown over the summer from erupting into many more infections, according to a new study. Co-authors of the study included Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.

October 2o: President Biden: It’s time for an urgent and effective plan to vaccinate the world (The Hill)

Dean Michelle Williams co-authored this opinion piece calling on President Biden to significantly step up efforts to boost global vaccine coverage. The authors urged Biden to donate hundreds of millions more doses to lower-income countries; permit COVAX (a global partnership to accelerate fair access to COVID-19 vaccines) and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to move ahead of the U.S. in COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers’ queues; boost funding for COVAX; scale up vaccine production in the U.S. and around the world; provide support for vaccine delivery and administration infrastructure in LMICs; and spearhead a shared global plan to achieve at least 80% vaccination around the world.

October 20: How States Could Reach Herd Immunity As Delta Variant Continues To Dominate (Newsweek)

Some state officials say their states may be close to reaching herd immunity against COVID-19, as their populations are reaching 70% or higher vaccination rates. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted, “In general I would be very cautious about using the term ‘herd immunity.’ People interpret it as a finish line, and think it means that the virus is then eradicated or eliminated. But that’s not accurate.” He noted that “while vaccines make the consequences of [COVID-19] much less severe, infections in at-risk individuals can still be serious.”

October 19: Opinion: Schools should do away with mask mandates by the end of the year (Washington Post)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, called for setting a firm date for ending masking in schools, since COVID-19 poses low risk to children and vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds are expected soon.

October 19: Black and Latino families are bearing the weight of the pandemic’s economic toll (NPR’s Morning Edition)

Over the last few months, more than 55% of Black and Latino households reported serious financial problems compared with 29% of white households, in a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard Chan School.

October 18: Plan to increase U.S. COVID testing at home (Scripps National News)

Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, discussed how to use rapid COVID-19 tests most effectively. “You have to test with them more frequently and closer to an event that you’re interested in going to, so you would want to test the morning of going to school, or the morning of a gathering,” he said.

October 18: The coronavirus is still mutating. But will that matter? ‘We need to keep the respect for this virus.’ (Washington Post)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was among experts who warned that the coronavirus could continue to develop new mutations that make it more dangerous. “We’d have to be idiots to think the virus is done with us, and it will continue to evolve,” he said.

October 15: Reimagining our pandemic problems with the mindset of an engineer (Technology Review)

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, is director of science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. He noted that the center’s philosophy “is to improve decision-making under uncertainty, by reducing that uncertainty with better analyses and better data, but also by acknowledging what is not known, and communicating that and its consequences clearly.”

October 14: Telehealth has been vital during COVID, but most people still prefer in-person care (NPR’s Morning Edition)

New polling data from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard Chan School shows that while a large majority of those using telehealth during the pandemic were satisfied, nearly two-thirds prefer in-person visits.

October 14: F.D.A. Panel Recommends Booster for Many Moderna Vaccine Recipients (New York Times)

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 advisory panel that recently recommended a booster for many Moderna vaccine recipients, commented on the panel’s decision.

October 14: Biden needs to make rapid home COVID tests easily available | USA TODAY Editorial Board (USA Today)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted.

October 14: With hospitals crowded from COVID, 1 in 5 American families delays health care (NPR)

Many Americans are facing delays in getting health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard Chan School. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, who helped run the poll, said, “The numbers were much greater than we expected, and the delta variant changed what was going on.” He added, “This is the United States. You don’t expect people with serious illnesses to say they cannot be seen for care.”

October 14: COVID-19 vaccination all the more important with pending ‘winter wave’ (KCBS)

Health officials should be focusing on disseminating COVID-19 booster shots to older adults—who are most at risk from the disease, even if vaccinated—and on vaccinating younger people, especially kids in school, because they can spread the virus, according to Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

October 14: Covid: Lateral flow tests more accurate than first thought, study finds (BBC)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was part of a research team that found that rapid COVID-19 tests were more than 80% effective at detecting any level of COVID-19 infection and likely to be more than 90% effective at detecting who is most infectious when they use the test. Mina said that rapid tests could “catch nearly everyone who is currently a serious risk to public health.”

October 12: Rapid tests can make it easier to gather safely for the holidays (Boston Globe)

The availability of rapid COVID-19 tests, which correctly identify when a person is infectious about 98% of the time, should make family gatherings safer during the holidays this year, according to Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Alongside vaccination, they [the rapid tests] can be one of the most important new elements of our ability to stay safe and socialize with confidence,” he said.

October 12: Harvard Immunologist Champions At-Home Covid Tests to Beat the Pandemic (Bloomberg)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the U.S. should be making low-cost, rapid tests readily available to consumers.

October 12: Covid-19 Rapid Testing at Home Will Get Easier, but Test Wisely (Wall Street Journal)

This article discussed why rapid testing for COVID-19 is important and when and how to make use of the tests. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was quoted.

October 12: Should Passengers Be Vaccinated or Tested to Fly Within the U.S.? (New York Times)

Many airline executives are opposed to COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for domestic air travelers in the U.S. They say that instituting such requirements would be complicated and would create long airport lines, and that flying is safe during the pandemic. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, acknowledged that that establishing a system to check vaccination and testing would be complicated, but added, “I do believe we should get to the point where we have those mechanics.”

October 10: On Mental Health Day: How Do We Learn to Live With the Pandemic? (FIT)

In this podcast, Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, spoke about inequalities and how the pandemic widened the gap. He pointed out the need for universal income and universal medical coverage as essential for better mental health outcomes in societies.

October 8: Why Covid-19 testing went so wrong in the US, and what to do now (Knowable Magazine)

In this video, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, discussed the problems with COVID-19 testing in the U.S., including delays and errors in producing and distributing tests at the beginning of the pandemic and a continuing deficit in access to frequent, rapid tests.

October 7: Biden, Awaiting an OSHA Rule, Urges Companies to Require Vaccinations (New York Times)

President Biden’s mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, issued in September, will likely not take effect for several weeks. In the meantime, he is encouraging private companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for employees. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted, “I know a couple big companies that are ready to hit send on the email to all employees, and they’re waiting for this thing to come out. If they’re going to spend the next two months getting the wording absolutely 100 percent on the rule-making, it defeats the purpose.”

October 7: Biden’s investment in rapid Covid-19 tests is a good start, but not nearly enough, experts say (CNN)

President Biden recently announced that the U.S. government would spend an additional $1 billion to get more at-home rapid COVID-19 tests into the market. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, called the move “a good start” but said he would like to see a plan to bring more inexpensive tests to the market right away. “We need the world’s tests available in the US today,” he said. “We needed them a year ago. We don’t have a moment to waste.”

October 7: How the risk of Covid-19 for kids compares to other dangers (Vox)

Research suggests that COVID-19 poses a relatively low risk to children, even with the Delta variant circulating. In addition, children’s natural defenses against the coronavirus may help boost overall population immunity, according to Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Over time, as SARS-CoV-2 becomes an endemic virus, basically everybody is going to get exposed to it multiple times by the time they turn 5 or 10,” he said. This repeated exposure can build up people’s immunity, which could eventually turn the virus into something more like the common cold or seasonal flu.

October 7: With Masks On or Off, Schools Try to Find the New Normal (New York Times)

Schools across the U.S. are trying to figure out how to manage COVID-19 moving forward, including debating how long to continue masking. What’s causing all the confusion, the infighting, the disagreement—it’s really a lack of goal setting,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “Zero Covid in schools? Well, that may not be possible.”

October 7: White House buys $1B in at-home COVID tests (Cox Media Group)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was quoted.

October 7: Here’s what you need to know about rapid, at-home coronavirus tests (Boston Globe)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was quoted.

October 7: Why, When and How to Test At-Home for COVID-19 (TIME Magazine)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the importance of using rapid COVID-19 tests to identify when people are infectious and most likely to spread the disease to others.

October 6: White House announces $1 billion purchase of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests (Washington Post)

A Biden administration plan to buy $1 billion worth of rapid COVID-19 tests will quadruple the number of such tests available to Americans by December. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has long pushed for more rapid tests in the U.S. market, was quoted.

October 6: The stages of pandemic emotion: from horror to hope to rage — and now, an anxious optimism (STAT)

Experts say that, in spite of overall declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the U.S., it’s tough to predict how the fall and winter will play out, given that there remain significant pockets of unvaccinated people. Some think that the country is making a slow exit from the epidemic phase and a gradual entry to the endemic phase, when the virus will still circulate, but at levels that society can tolerate. Said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, “We’ve still got a little work left to do, but my hope is that we’re approaching something ever closer to normalcy.”

October 6: Experts weigh in on when the public health emergency should end (Washington Post)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was one of several experts commenting on how long the U.S. should be under a public health emergency because of the pandemic. He noted, “I wouldn’t call it a restriction by any means, but one thing that should not go away is higher ventilation and better filtration. Healthy buildings should be the norm going forward, not the exception.”

October 5: Merck sells federally financed Covid pill to U.S. for 40 times what it costs to make (The Intercept)

Melissa Barber, a doctoral candidate in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Global Health and Population, co-authored a report showing that the drug company Merck plans to significantly mark up the price of their new COVID-19 pill when they sell it to the U.S. government.

October 5: Get vaccinated and start eating better. It could save your life. (Washington Post)

A recent study co-authored by Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School, found a significant correlation between healthy eating and a reduced risk of severe COVID-19. Other studies have reached similar conclusions. “We understand, of course, that the most important interventions we have for prevention of COVID is vaccines and appropriate masking in crowded indoor settings, but there are still opportunities for prevention that involve healthy foods,” he said.

October 5: How mRNA Vaccine Platforms Unlocks the Potential for Universal Vaccines (Vice)

Developing vaccines is now faster and easier than ever before because of mRNA platforms, which can be tailored to attack specific viruses in a matter of days or even hours. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was quoted from Harvard Chan School’s “Better Off” podcast. She said that mRNA vaccines are safer than vaccines that use small amounts of a live virus. She also noted that researchers had been working on mRNA platforms for decades, which is why manufacturers were able to produce vaccines so quickly after SARS-CoV-2 appeared.

October 4: Why Are Americans Still—Still!—Wearing Cloth Masks? (The Atlantic)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was one of several experts questioning Americans’ wide use of cloth masks, since some studies suggest that surgical masks are more effective at protecting against COVID-19.

October 4: Signs of encouragement as US sees drop in Covid cases and hospitalizations (The Guardian)

Experts said that while they don’t expect another coronavirus surge in the U.S. as big as previous ones during the pandemic, the virus remains a significant threat due to the large number of people who still haven’t been vaccinated and the risk of a new variant. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was quoted.

October 3: Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities (The Atlantic)

In this Ideas piece, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, wrote that workplaces need more fresh air, both to minimize the amount of dangerous viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 in indoor spaces and to reduce air pollutants that can harm health and decrease cognitive function.

October 2: Florida, Texas Account for More Than 30 Percent of U.S. COVID Deaths in Past Three Months (Newsweek)

Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was quoted.

October 2: Is trick-or-treating safe? How to celebrate Halloween amid the COVID-19 pandemic (USA Today)

Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, offered tips on safe trick-or-treating.

October 1: Rapid Tests Are the Answer to Living With Covid-19 (New York Times)

In this opinion piece, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and Stephen Phillips of the COVID Collaborative argued that President Biden should take executive action to change the U.S. regulatory structure to help bring more rapid COVID-19 tests into the U.S. market. They wrote that “the White House should also treat rapid testing with the same urgency and private sector partnership approach that Operation Warp Speed pioneered for vaccines.” They noted that, “for public health purposes, we need fast, accessible tests that answer the question, ‘Am I infectious now?’ Rapid tests can help prevent spread to your child, spouse, friend, colleague, classmate or the stranger sitting next to you at dinner.”

Learn more

See stories from September 2021

See stories from August 2021

See stories from July 2021

See stories from June 2021

See stories from May 2021

See stories from April 2021

See stories from March 2021

See stories from February 2021

See stories from January 2021

See stories from December 2020

See stories from November 2020

See stories from October 2020

See stories from September 2020

See stories from August 2020

See stories from July 2020

See stories from June 2020

See stories from May 2020

See stories from April 2020

See stories from March 2020

See stories from January and February 2020