Harvard public health experts warn coronavirus is as ‘lethal as ever’

“A false narrative is wrongly taking hold that COVID-19 has lost its teeth.”

Boston, MA - 7/8/2020: Melissa Leaston of Whittier Street Health Center uses a nasal swab to collect a specimen outside the Catherine Hardaway Residences in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, MA on July 08, 2020. A full day of free community-based testing took place at Central Boston Elder Services and its Catherine Hardaway Residences for the elderly and people with disabilities in the Roxbury. CBES and partner Whittier Street Health Center provided this opportunity to all members of the community who wish to be tested. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff) coronavirus Covid-19 Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe, File

Public health experts at Harvard are warning that COVID-19 remains as “lethal as ever,” cautioning that any narratives about the virus being less dangerous are “false.”

“COVID-19 is not becoming less dangerous,” the Harvard Global Health Institute wrote in a press release late Wednesday. 

The experts at the Harvard institute pointed out that hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise in hotspots across the country, including in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas. They warned that because other states, like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, are experiencing falling mortality rates as they suppress the virus, the national averages on hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 are “misleading.”

Hospitalizations and deaths always lag a few weeks behind a rise in infections, they said.

“The hospitalizations and death counts we see today are only and always a picture of where the virus was weeks ago,” institute staff wrote. “The rapid increase in cases in many states has been overshadowed because hospitalizations and death rates have not risen at the same pace. As a result, a false narrative is wrongly taking hold that COVID-19 has lost its teeth. It’s a narrative that fundamentally misunderstands how COVID-19 — the disease — works: It takes time for the coronavirus to take hold in a person’s body and hospitalize those who experience more severe illness. When someone gets infected, it can take a week to experience symptoms and get diagnosed, another week or so before hospitalization may be needed, and another two to three weeks for a patient to die.”


Hospitalizations and deaths are rising in hotspots just as public experts feared they would, the Harvard institute said. The number of cases in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas are rising much faster than the number of daily tests performed, indicating that surveillance of the virus isn’t keeping up with the transmission because COVID-19 is spreading “exponentially” in those hotspots.

The Harvard Global Health Institute compared COVID-19 numbers from 6/23/20 to 7/7/20.

“Remember: Because death is a lagging indicator, we are only now seeing a rise in deaths in the latest hotspot states,” the institute wrote. “This is not visible in national mortality numbers because states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts still have falling mortality rates, which make the national numbers look flat. In the states hardest hit with new outbreaks, the disease is just getting started to show it’s devastating impact.”

The global health institute, along with the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, put out a plan in the spring for how to safely reopen the economy while controlling the spread of the virus through rigorous testing and contact tracing programs and action at the federal level to support state efforts.


More than 132,000 people have died in the United States from complications of COVID-19 since the outbreak began, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking project.


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