Gawande: More vaccinations, masking key to fighting COVID

Rolling out vaccines as quickly as possible and doubling down on COVID-19 precautions such as wearing masks will be the most effective tools to fight the virus in the months to come, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Atul Gawande.

In interviews with a variety of media outlets, Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and co-founder of Ariadne Labs, spoke about his efforts to help distribute vaccines, his recent New Yorker article about a North Dakota city’s struggle over public health precautions to contain the virus, and the dangers posed by highly transmissible variants.

Through CIC Health, a company he co-founded, Gawande helped set up three mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts—at Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. These sites are already offering more than 5,000 vaccines per day, and mass vaccination sites across the country have reached 1.5 million shots per day, he said. “That will continue to climb,” he said on CNBC’s Squawkbox on February 11, 2021.

But vaccinations are not getting out quickly enough to people of color and to rural settings where there are high rates of spread, he said in a February 9 interview on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. “Bringing those people in has got to be a high priority now,” he said.

He said he’s very concerned about variants. “The doubling time—the rate at which you see this virus spreading to double its number—is only 10 days,” he said on February 9 interview on PBS NewsHour. “By March, we can expect real trouble, unless we really double down, not just on vaccines, but on our masks.”

Discussing his New Yorker article on NewsHour, Gawande said there was a “fierce debate” in the city of Minot, North Dakota “over whether masks work, and then also about whether COVID-19 was a really serious infection worth attacking or not.” The city eventually instituted a mask mandate, although it later dropped it. But as COVID-19 cases soared in Minot and across North Dakota, the state saw mask-wearing reach a high of 89%.

The Minot debate suggests that “we’re not going to get to consensus on these issues,” Gawande said. “The question is, can we have an open, respectful debate, hear each other, pay attention to the pain everybody’s feeling?”

Watch clip from CNBC’s Squawkbox: Dr. Atul Gawande on mass immunization challenges in the U.S.

Watch clip from the Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Dr. Atul Gawande – The Equity Problems with Vaccine Distribution | The Daily Social Distancing Show

Watch or read PBS NewsHour article: Slowing the spread of new COVID strains by changing public attitudes toward vaccinations

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A North Dakota community’s struggle with COVID (Harvard Chan School news)