What This Epidemiologist Wants Americans to Know About Covid-19 Right Now
A leading expert on the pandemic cuts through the mixed messages and confusion
One of the first scientists I reached out to in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was Marc Lipsitch, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Soon after, he became hard to reach. Like other experts in infectious disease and epidemiology — the science of investigating causes, trends, and outcomes of diseases or other health-related events — Lipsitch’s time is in great demand from journalists and policymakers, not to mention the actual ongoing pandemic research.
Since then, much has been learned about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19, the disease it causes.
During these seven months, Lipsitch and other scientists — just like many other Americans — have become increasingly frustrated over mixed messaging from some health officials, outright falsehoods and misinformation uttered by some politicians and circulating wildly in social media, the lack of governmental leadership in managing the U.S. pandemic response, and the resulting disagreement over basic scientific facts and ensuing political and public polarization over what to do.
So on an Aug. 13 call with reporters covering a range of Covid-19 science details, I asked Lipsitch to step back and consider a broader question:
Amid all the confusion, what would you most like all Americans to know right now?
Here is an edited version of his responses on the call and in a subsequent exchange:
Viruses don’t care
“The first thing is just the very fundamental notion that if you have susceptible people, and if you have human contact, and if you have a virus to which those people are susceptible, it will spread, and the number of cases will increase. “My friend [and fellow epidemiologist] Bill Hanage sometimes says, ‘Viruses don’t read Twitter.’ They don’t care what we think about them. They don’t care what they do to the economy. They don’t care about anything. And we have to be rational in the face of that.”