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The World Health Organization has officially declared the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus to be a global pandemic. Around the world and here in Massachusetts, governments are bracing for rapid spread and communities are grappling with the impacts. 

I hosted a question-and-answer session with one of the world’s foremost infectious diseases epidemiology experts–Professor Marc Lipsitch, Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

You can watch our 30-minute conversation here. He also recently wrote an op-ed in the The Boston Globe, “The interventions we must take to control the coronavirus.” As Professor Lipsitch explained, at this point we are beyond being able to stop the spread of COVID-19. Instead, communities must focus on slowing down transmission to reduce the number of cases that require treatment all at once.

Without intervention, the exponential spread of this very contagious virus would send tens of thousands of residents to hospitals at the same time, overwhelming the health care system and forcing medical staff to ration care. The only way to slow the spread is through “social-distancing”–limiting physical interactions and large-scale gatherings.

Just as important as limiting spread is mitigating harm to those who will be disproportionately affected by the disruption to important support systems such as public transportation or public schools, and those who have the least flexibility to adapt to uncertain working conditions–low-income communities and communities of color, residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability, and the medically vulnerable. In addition to emergency response, we have to plan for food access, economic stability, supports for housing stability, and more.

We’ll get to analyze and discuss the City’s plans early next week, when the Boston City Council will host two sessions of hearings on COVID-19: on Monday, March 16th at 5:30PM to discuss emergency response; and on Tuesday, March 17th at 2PM to discuss facilities/infrastructure and economic impact. City Hall has instituted a temporary policy to limit crowds, so please email any questions or testimony rather than attending in person to testify. The live-stream will be available on the City Council website.

Let’s do more than just wash our hands. Even as we practice social-distancing, it’s more important than ever to strengthen our social bonds. Seniors face particular health risk from this virus, yet taking precautions only reinforces social isolation. Please take the time to call, text, or send a message to your neighbors. Ask if any elderly friends need someone to do the grocery shopping for them. Help your family members stock up on prescriptions and make provisions for child care in case they may need to seek treatment. Consider setting up a phone tree or email list for your block so that people can be in touch about what they need.

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Michelle