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 in which they offer comments and context:
September 29: New Infectious Threats Are Coming. The U.S. Probably Won’t Contain Them. (New York Times)
The rise of global travel, vaccine hesitancy, and the growing proximity of people and animals are all likely to contribute to increasing numbers of viral outbreaks in the future, but the U.S. is not well prepared to meet the challenge, according to experts. Public health and pandemic preparedness both remain underfunded. Government officials typically look for easy solutions during crises, but no such solutions exist for pandemics, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “A pandemic is by definition a problem from hell,” he said. “You’re vanishingly unlikely to be able to remove all of its negative consequences.”
September 26: These scientists traced a new coronavirus lineage to one office — through sewage (Nature)
A group of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been tracking a heavily-mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2 by studying wastewater samples. “It’s such smart detective work,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, of their efforts. “We still don’t really know where variants come from.”
September 24: Biden’s claim that Covid pandemic is over sparks debate over future (The Guardian)
Rather than declare the pandemic over, as President Biden did recently, it would have been better if he’d convened stakeholders to discuss possible solutions to the ongoing challenges from COVID-19, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “This ended pandemic is still three times as bad as something we would ordinarily consider pretty bad, and I think that’s important, especially because we expect cases to tick up in the fall and the winter,” he said.
September 23: Why Biden’s premature COVID ending could help it surge (The Hill)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams argued that President Biden’s recent declaration that “the pandemic is over” is premature and could undercut the government’s response to COVID-19’s continuing impact, including rolling out new bivalent vaccine boosters and obtaining funding from Congress.
September 21: Biden said the pandemic is over. Health experts disagree (GBH News)
Speaking on the GBH News show “Greater Boston,” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even though the current situation regarding the pandemic is better than it was in 2020 or 2021, it’s still not over. “We still have excess respiratory illness, excess deaths,” he said. “And even now, when things have been plateauing better than they have for quite a long time … we are still struggling to get people the help that they need and we can expect things to get worse in the winter months.”
September 21: Biden says the pandemic is over. Experts and advocates in Mass. say ‘not so fast’ (GBH)
Health experts in Massachusetts pushed back on President Biden’s recent declaration that the pandemic is over, given that the nation is still seeing 400–500 COVID deaths per day. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that she doesn’t think Biden’s words will change many people’s minds either way. But she doesn’t think the pandemic is over. “I think that we have yet to see what the fall and winter will look like in terms of the burden on our health care system, which is ultimately my biggest concern moving forward,” she said.
September 20: Is the Pandemic ‘Over’? Biden Says So, But Scientists Say That’s Up for Debate (FactCheck.org)
Experts are mixed on whether the pandemic is “over,” as President Biden said during a recent interview. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that there is no standard definition for when a pandemic ends. “Previous pandemics have ‘ended’ when people no longer count the fluctuations in cases as large enough to merit calling it such,” he said. He added that the coronavirus “has never been going away, and people will inevitably continue to die albeit in diminishing numbers.” He said that rather than dwelling on semantics, the “question should actually be what sort of numbers do we find acceptable, and how can we work to reduce them further?”
September 20: Who Is Still Dying From Covid? The CDC Can’t Answer That (Washington Post)
Between 400 and 500 people are still dying every day from COVID, but experts say the U.S. lacks detailed information on who is dying, how many have been vaccinated and/or boosted, and what treatments they’ve received. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that one reason the data aren’t clear is that information is not collected in a uniform way. “A lot of public health happens at city level or lower so, because of that, it’s really hard to combine data across states to assess who is ending up in the hospital or dying of COVID-19,” he said.
September 19: Covid will be a leading cause of death in the U.S. indefinitely, whether or not the pandemic is ‘over’ (NBC News)
President Biden said in a recent interview that the pandemic was “over.” But even if the coronavirus doesn’t pose the kind of threat it did when it first started spreading, it remains deadly, according to experts. Since April, it has killed from 300 to 500 people in the U.S. every day. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that saying the pandemic is over “seems like we are endorsing this level of disease burden and mortality associated with the virus.”
September 19: Biden says COVID-19 pandemic ‘is over,’ but experts not so sure (Healio)
Some experts expressed concern over President Biden saying in an interview that the pandemic is “over.” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he is worried that people on the fence about getting a booster shot might skip it if they think the pandemic is over.
September 16: Fifteen questions: Marc Lipsitch on Covid modeling, open-access science, and latte art (Harvard Crimson)
In this Q&A, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, and senior scientist at the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA), discussed how he decided to become an epidemiologist, what it was like to suddenly be in the spotlight when the pandemic began, how public health messaging can be improved, and more.
September 15: It’s not your imagination: Planes are dirtier (Washington Post)
Deep cleaning of airplanes—prevalent during the beginning of the pandemic—has eased over time, as it became clearer that the coronavirus spreads mainly through tiny airborne particles. “As more was learned about covid and transmission routes of covid, it was recognized that deep cleaning was overkill,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. Marcus and other experts noted that airlines are still prioritizing air filtration and that flying can be generally safe, but recommended that passengers continue to take precautions such as wearing a high-quality mask while flying.
September 9: Federal meal programs supported youths’ access to food during COVID school closures (News Medical)
A study co-authored by Erica Kenney, assistant professor of public health nutrition, found that two federal meal programs launched during the pandemic—one that provided “grab and go” school meals, and another that gave parents debit cards to purchase groceries—reached more than 30 million children and provided either meals or cash for nearly 1.5 billion meals per month in 2020. In this Q&A, Kenney and co-author James Krieger of the University of Washington spoke about the implications of their findings.
September 7: Get a COVID-19 booster with your flu shot? Local doctors warn once-a year shots may be too optimistic. (GBH)
Updated COVID booster shots targeting newer variants including BA.4 and BA.5 are now available from both Pfizer and Moderna. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even though the virus is expected to evolve further, getting one of the boosters is good for both individuals and the community. “We have these vaccines which are capable of protecting against those viruses which are currently circulating in our community and that you’re likely to encounter over the next few months,” he said. “So giving people something to help protect them against that is just good sense.”
September 7: What scientists have learnt from COVID lockdowns (Nature)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, and Lisa Robinson, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Center for Health Decision Science, were among experts discussing the relative benefits and costs of lockdowns during the pandemic.
September 7: As masks are shed, a routine visit to a medical office can pose Covid risks for some patients (STAT)
The risks of infection from COVID and other respiratory diseases in outpatient settings is “an important issue that people aren’t talking about,” said Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management. Disease spread could be limited by giving patients options for virtual visits, requiring masking, and minimizing patients’ time spent waiting around others, he said.
September 6: “The Human Psyche Was Not Built for This” (Pro Publica)
This article detailed a Montana hospital’s dire experience during the surge of the coronavirus’ Delta variant, highlighting how politics interfered with public health measures such as vaccine mandates. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that “political lean” is one of the best indicators for COVID-19 death rates. “Viruses don’t care how you vote,” he said. “If you allow lots of people to become infected at once, it will crash health care.”
September 3: What protection to expect from updated COVID vaccines this fall (CBC)
Updated COVID boosters are now available that target Omicron variants. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that even though the original vaccines didn’t target Omicron, they still provided protection against severe illness. But the new boosters should provide even more protection. “Notably, there may well be a period following the shot when people are immune to infection,” he said.
September 2: Whatever happened to the Botswana scientist who identified omicron — then caught it? (NPR)
In this Q&A, Sikhulile Moyo, director of the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) lab and a research associate in immunology and infectious diseases, discussed pathogen genomic sequencing both at his lab and in southern Africa as a whole, how the pandemic may play out in the near future and how best to prepare, and his own experience with COVID infection.
September 2: ‘Generally in a good spot’: health experts weigh in on relaxed Harvard COVID-19 policies (Harvard Crimson)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, was among experts discussing Harvard’s current COVID-19 policies.
September 1: Covid, monkeypox, polio: Summer of viruses reflects travel, warming trends (Washington Post)
A warming climate, vanishing forests, and global travel have accelerated the spread of various pathogens, according to experts. According to Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, the high level of viral activity this summer “is partly just poor luck. … But it’s bad luck painted over the top of this trend where we can start to expect these events more and more frequently.”
See stories from:
January and February 2020