Pandemic response so far—and what may lie ahead

Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch discussed a range of topics related to the coronavirus pandemic in a half-hour interview on the podcast “Deep Background with Noah Feldman.”

In the October 28, 2020 interview, Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the School’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, talked about U.S. government missteps in responding to the pandemic, disease modeling, the state of therapeutics for COVID-19, herd immunity, the best prevention methods, vaccines, and lessons from other countries.

Asked if the current upsurge in coronavirus cases across the U.S. is likely to lead to a higher peak than the country experienced last spring, Lipsitch said it depends on how people and governments respond. Given that the population remains largely uninfected and is therefore susceptible, it’s likely that the disease will be widespread, he said, “but how high a peak we have really depends on the timing and strength of our reaction, and that is so uncoordinated in this country and also between countries that it’s hard to make a general prediction.”

On the positive side, some evidence suggests that treatment for the coronavirus is improving, so the death rate among people with severe disease will likely decrease, Lipsitch said.

The most important strategy to fight the coronavirus is to try to prevent its spread, he said. “The best evidence right now is that a combination of very widespread mask use, and consistent mask use, really insisting on social distancing when encountering other people, and increasingly making available cheap and frequent tests so that people can understand their status is, in my view, the best combination of measures that will keep things at bay while we search for vaccines and therapeutics,” he said.

Listen to the Deep Background podcast: The Road out of the Pandemic