The Contagion Year

What we learned about treating COVID-19 in Year One of the pandemic

physician looking at an X-ray image of the lungs

Image: Chinnapong/iStock/Getty Images Plus

This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of medicine, biomedical research, medical education, and policy related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the disease COVID-19.

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in December of 2019 in China, the microbe ripping across the globe, its uncontrolled spread in the United States …

This dizzying cascade of events overwhelmed hospitals and forced physicians in the trenches to figure out on the fly how to treat a mystifying disease caused by a new virus.

The 12-month learning curve has been agonizingly steep, but it has had its rewards. Researchers have gleaned new insights about how to manage the disease and its complications—knowledge that lays the groundwork for understanding and treating infections caused by other novel viruses.

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In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared SARS-CoV-2 a global pandemic. On the eve of its one-year anniversary, two Harvard Medical School COVID-19 experts—Ingrid Bassett and Lindsey Baden—pondered some of the most valuable lessons learned.

Baden is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of clinical research in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Bassett is an associate professor of medicine at HMS and an infectious diseases expert at Massachusetts General Hospital.

They are also members of the Harvard Medical School-led Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR), a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary, international research effort established on March 2, 2020, at Harvard Medical School to help combat the current pandemic and set the stage for fighting future ones. 

Together with colleagues Karen Jacobson and Rajesh Gandhi, Baden and Bassett lead MassCPR’s Clinical Disease Management and Outcomes group, charged with understanding the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, identifying optimal therapies to treat and manage its complications, and developing ways to improve patient outcomes.

Baden and Bassett outlined the following key lessons from Year One of the pandemic:

Portrait photo of Ingrid Bassett and Lindsey Baden
Ingrid Bassett (left) and Lindsey Baden co-lead the clinical management and patient outcomes group of MassCPR. Images: MGH Center for Global Health and Len Rubenstein for Brigham and Women’s