This is part of our Coronavirus Update series, in which Harvard specialists in epidemiology, infectious disease, economics, politics, and other disciplines offer insights into what the latest developments in the COVID-19 outbreak may bring.
The good news about epidemics is that they all eventually end, Harvard Chan School immunologist Barry Bloom said Monday evening. The bad news is, you have to move fast to contain them.
“The world will not come to an end, but … speed is of the essence and in all the major epidemics I’m aware of in modern times, nobody acted quickly enough,” said Bloom, the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health and former Chan School dean.
Bloom’s warning came amid a growing national outcry about the slow pace of testing for the new coronavirus. Harvard Chan School epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said at an event earlier in the day that U.S. national testing has been “orders of magnitude lower” than that of a single Chinese province and is likely masking the true extent of the epidemic here, including the possibility — if undetected mild cases are widespread — that the virus is less deadly than now thought.
U.S. cases have been rising rapidly in recent days. Several cases with no connection to international travel have raised concerns that the virus has been spreading for weeks in some communities. The official U.S. count on Tuesday stood at 108 cases in 12 states and six deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional three deaths were reported Tuesday afternoon by the Washington state Department of Health, bringing the overall total in the nation to nine. New cases have been detected in several states, including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New York.
Globally, the World Health Organization is reporting 90, 870 confirmed cases, with 3,112 deaths.
Bloom and Lipsitch spoke at a Monday evening panel discussion on COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus, sponsored by the Harvard Chan School’s China Health Partnership and moderated by the partnership’s head, Winnie Yip, professor of the practice of international health policy and economics. It was the second discussion at the School on the topic Monday — experts, including Lipsitch had gathered at the Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for a lunchtime webcast discussion of COVID-19’s spread.