Events & exhibitions

Critical Public Health Questions for 2021: Closing (and Reopening) Schools and Workplaces

An empty classroom. A sign with instructions on preventing the spread of viruses is posted on the door.
Photo by JeanLuc

The COVID-19 pandemic—the greatest public health challenge in more than a century—has forced many hard decisions. The partial or full closures of schools nationwide have become a flashpoint with very strong opinions on both sides and have reinforced the critical role that schools play in supporting the health of our children. As we move toward reopening schools and other workplaces, it is clear that buildings themselves are vital to the public’s health, and the need for proper ventilation and air filtering to slow the viral spread has become essential. The lack of “healthy buildings,” particularly for Black and brown populations, leaves millions of children and adults vulnerable. In this program, the participants will discuss disparities and key issues related to school closures, as well as strategies to enhance the built environment as we move toward reopening our workplaces and schools.

Each session in this series will focus on a single topic area and will consider current policies, barriers that impede progress, and ideas for meaningful policy change, all with an eye toward promoting racial equity. We will gather experts from academia and practice communities to facilitate dialogue that brings together cutting-edge research with real-world challenges and solutions. These programs—concentrating on education, public health, and carceral systems—will explore proven and new ideas that offer solutions to these pressing issues, with particular emphasis on those that reduce racial disparities.

Event Video

Empty classroom by JeanLuc


Joseph G. Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings Program, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Leana S. Wen, emergency physician; visiting professor of health policy and management and distinguished fellow at the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity, Milken School of Public Health, George Washington University; and contributing columnist, Washington Post


Janet Rich-Edwards, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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