2020: The year in review

YaleNews looks back at the top stories of 2020, including COVID-19 research, a Nobel Prize laureate, and more.

The year 2020 was a year unlike any other.

Just weeks into the year, COVID-19 upended life as we knew it — at Yale, in Connecticut, across the country and the world. As the enormity of the challenge became apparent, members of the Yale community scrambled to adjust their lives to uncertainty, to maintain a sense of togetherness, and to help in a time of need. For many Yale researchers, this meant shifting their attention to the crisis itself in an effort to minimize its spread and identify treatments and vaccines. 

After reviewing the stories we published on Yale News this year, we curated a list of 15 about Yale’s response to pandemic that resonated most strongly with readers and that best capture how the university and our experts responded to the crisis to manage and make sense of the virus. 

We also highlight 10 non-COVID stories about the people and projects that inspired us and offered hope for a brighter, healthier and more just future. 

The list includes some of the year's most viewed stories as well as some that aptly reflect life at Yale in 2020.

Yale responds to the COVID-19 crisis

Housebound world finds solace in Yale’s Science of Well Being course

By late March much of the country was house-bound. During that month, more than 600,000 people signed up for Yale’s free online course “The Science of Well Being,” taught by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos.

We’ll continue until we find the answers’ – sequencing the COVID-19 genome

Amid the whirlwind of changes to campus life during the early days of COVID-19, the Yale Center for Genome Analysis was among a handful of Yale facilities with the specialized technology necessary to investigate the biological and chemical functions and mechanisms at play within the virus. In an interview, Shrikant Mane — director of the center and of the Keck Biotechnology Resource Laboratory, and professor of genetics — discussed the center’s COVID-19 research.

Yale study finds self-isolation would dramatically reduce ICU bed demand

Early in the pandemic, Alison Galvani, Burnett and Stender Families Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, and her team began analyzing various scenarios for COVID-19’s spread in the U.S. — and how self-isolation rates by symptomatic individuals could affect demand for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. In early April she discussed the urgency of self-isolation even for those who were even “mildly symptomatic.”

Historian Frank Snowden: We may be forever changed by coronavirus

Yale historian Frank Snowden has long been fascinated by the ways epidemics hold up a “mirror” to the social, cultural, and political conditions in which they arise. In April, Snowden, the Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History, discussed what large epidemics say about a society and how the COVID-19 pandemic might change the world.

Shades of Yale lifts voices and uplifts spirits with familiar melody

Since its founding in 1988, the Shades of Yale, an a cappella group devoted to songs of the African diaspora, has closed every concert with a medley arrangement of the traditional spirituals “Amen” and “We Shall Overcome.” Their online performance of the medley during a May “Spring Jam” had a new resonance. 

Yale and NBA partner to study efficacy of new COVID-19 saliva-based test

In June, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health partnered with the National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association to study the efficacy of a saliva-based method that quickly determines if someone is infected with the novel coronavirus. The method was used when the league resumed its 2019-2020 schedule in “the bubble” in Bay Lake, Florida.

Yale invites students back to campus for the fall semester

On July 1, the university announced plans for an in-person fall semester, with extensive public health protocols, including mandatory COVID-19 testing for all students. The plan drew on the counsel of six planning committees — for public health; for emergency policy; one each for continuity of academic, research, and creative and artistic practice; and for operations. 

Yale to lead trial of potential COVID-19 treatment

On July 27, Yale School of Medicine and the biopharmaceutical firm AI Therapeutics announced the start of a multi-institutional clinical trial of a drug for treating COVID-19. Preliminary research on the drug, known as LAM-002A (apilimod), had shown it can block cellular entry and trafficking of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of COVID-19.

Quick and affordable saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by Yale scientists

In August, Yale announced that a saliva-based laboratory diagnostic test developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health to determine whether someone is infected with the novel coronavirus had been granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

See what COVID-19 testing looks like at Yale residential colleges

Yale’s residential colleges play many roles in the lives of affiliated students and staff — home, workplace, and dining hall, social, recreational, and academic space, and cultural venue, too. They’re communities unto themselves in which residents strive to keep each other healthy and happy. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this latter commitment was more important than ever. In October, we took a look at one of the COVID-19 testing sites set up in most of the colleges for the fall semester.

Childcare not associated with spread of COVID-19, Yale study says

In the first-ever large-scale assessment of the risk of working in child care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale researchers found that child care programs that remained open throughout the pandemic had not contributed to the spread of the virus to providers. Their findings, published in October, offered valuable insight to parents, policymakers, and providers alike. 

Politics affect public buy-in on COVID-19 vaccine, study shows

By October, news reports provided hope that a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines might be around the corner. But researchers in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences found that public confidence in the safety and efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine would depend heavily on the political context in which a potential vaccine is approved and distributed.

President-elect Biden taps three experts with Yale ties to lead COVID-19 advisory board

Just days after his victory in the November election, President-elect Joe Biden named three public health experts with close Yale ties to lead his transition team’s new COVID-19 advisory board, including Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an authority on the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on communities of color. In the weeks since, Nunez-Smith was also tapped to lead a White House task force on health equity.

Black, Hispanic children bear disproportionate burden of COVID-19

When Yale researchers began studying cases of COVID-19 among children, they expected that they would find that the disease afflicted Black and Hispanic children at higher rates, just as it had in the adult population. In an analysis of 281 pediatric patients across eight hospitals in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, they discovered that the unequal burden borne by minority children was even greater than they expected.

The rest of the best

To improve students’ mental health teach them to breathe

When college students learn specific techniques for managing stress and anxiety, their well-being improves across a range of measures and leads to better mental health, according to a study by Yale researchers that was published in July. “In addition to academic skills, we need to teach students how to live a balanced life,” said Emma Seppälä, lead author and faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at the Yale School of Management. 

Louis Glück wins Nobel Prize in Literature

On Oct. 8, the renowned poet Louise Glück, an adjunct professor in Yale’s English department, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Across campus, she was praised for her extraordinary talent, her unflinching poems “of beauty and revelation,” and her devotion to teaching.

Ancient Chinese medicine unlocks new possibilities for cancer treatment

More than 20 years ago, Yale pharmacology professor Yung-Chi Cheng, a leader in drug development for hepatitis B, cancer, and HIV, had a radical idea: What if he could unlock the therapeutic potential of ancient Chinese medicines for treating cancer? Earlier this year, in a landmark moment in cancer research, Cheng and research partners launched the first international clinical trial for a botanical drug that will do just that.

Yale puts its might behind solutions for a planet in need

In December, Yale has launched a campus-wide initiative that will unite institutional leadership and academic experts across the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, professional schools, and the humanities in an intensive effort to tackle the environmental challenges threatening life on Earth.

Class of 2020 — meet some of the graduates

To offer a sense of the extraordinary human richness within the Yale College Class of 2020, in May we published short profiles of 14 members — one per residential college. They included singers and scientists, athletes and activists, ROTC cadets and Rhodes Scholars — a panoply of spirited, ambitious, and thoughtful undergraduates drawn from a bright constellation. 

In search of justice: Reimagining race, public safety at a watershed moment

In October, we introduced readers to Elizabeth Hinton and Phillip Atiba Goff, two new members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who this fall joined a growing group of scholars at Yale who are working on issues related to racial injustice, policing, and mass incarceration.

On Horse Island, students take regenerative design ‘off the grid’

With sustainability foremost in mind, advanced Yale architecture students designed and are now building a Peabody Museum research center on Horse Island, the largest of Connecticut’s Thimble Islands.

Coffee, sex, and Game of Thrones: A chat about ‘Balzac’s lives’

Fueled by endless cups of coffee, French author Honoré de Balzac produced more than 90 novels and short stories peopled by 2,400-plus characters during his lifetime. In a captivating interview, we caught up Peter Brooks, a Yale professor and author of “Balzac’s Lives,” an “antibiography” of the enigmatic writer.

Yale researchers find where stress lives

In a study published in May, Yale researchers found a neural home of the feeling of stress people experience, an insight that may help people deal with the debilitating sense of fear and anxiety that stress can evoke.

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid — not volcanoes

What killed the dinosaurs? In a study published in January, Yale researchers countered a theory described in several recent studies, arguing that massive volcanic eruptions in a region of India known as the Deccan Traps happened well before a mass extinction event 66 million years ago. 

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