A Campus Becomes a Pandemic Laboratory

And The Great Indoors in paperback!

Hi all!

Long time, no newsletter. I’ve been meaning to get one out for a while now, but I’ve been writing up a storm lately—it turns out that there are a lot of stories to write on the pandemic beat. I hope to get back into sending these out more regularly.

In any case, I have a couple of bits of news to share.

The Great Indoors in Paperback

The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness will be out in paperback on June 1. That’s two weeks from today! Same great content, new low weight (and price)! If this sounds like the kind of thing that might interest you, you can pre-order a copy at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, or your local independent bookstore.

And if you’ve already read and enjoyed the book, I’d be grateful if you could help spread the word!

Giving Coronavirus Tracking the Old College Try

For the last few months, I have been reporting on what the last year has been like at Colorado Mesa University, a 10,000-student school that has become a real-life, real-time pandemic laboratory. Like many schools, C.M.U. suddenly suspended its in-person classes last March. But C.M.U. administrators worried that their students — two-thirds of whom were students of color, low-income or the first in their families to go to college — might be permanently derailed by online learning. So the administration made a decision: In the fall, it would bring students back to campus. All of them. “It became really obvious very quickly, this was a moral imperative,” said John Marshall, the school’s vice president.

They did so with the help of an unlikely partner: computational geneticists 2,000 miles away, at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The geneticists, led by Dr. Pardis Sabeti, were infectious disease veterans who had previously helped health officials respond to Ebola, Lassa fever, and other outbreaks. And when Covid-19 hit, they happened to be in the middle of developing a set of new digital tools for managing future epidemics. They thought of it as a kind of “Facebook app for outbreaks.”

So they sped up development and sought out a place to pilot their tools. Immediately, they clicked with the team at C.M.U. (A pandemic safety music video may have helped seal the deal.) Over the last year, the teams have worked together to develop sophisticated systems for tracking Covid-19 symptoms and cases, recording students’ contacts, mapping case clusters, untangling chains of viral transmission and monitoring the spread of new variants.

The lessons they have learned and the tools they have developed could help institutions around the world better manage future outbreaks, Dr. Sabeti said: “We’re trying to build technologies that can be used globally. But a school is a great place to start.”

Find out more in my new story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/17/health/coronavirus-broad-colorado-mesa-sabeti.html

Bonus Interspecies Animal Content

Puppy and chameleon edition. (If you have trouble clicking through below, you can use this link.)

Stay safe and get vaccinated,


The Great Indoors is out now! You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, or your local independent bookstore. (And if you’ve already read the book, please consider leaving an Amazon rating or review!)

You can read more of my work at my website and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. (You can follow me on Facebook, too, I suppose, but I rarely post there.)