On Wednesday’s Boston Public Radio, Joseph Allen from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health made a case for better goal-setting as the U.S. works to scrape its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussion with Allen came on the heels of his recent piece for The New York Times, co-authored with Boston University’s Helen Jenkins, titled “The Harvard COVID-19 Questions We’re Not Asking.”

“The big question,” he explained to hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, “is: what are we trying to do in the U.S.? What are we actually trying to achieve?”

Conceding the apparent obviousness of his question, Allen said the country’s failure to contain COVID-19 up to this point boils down to a basic “lack of goal-setting,” which he argued leads to confusion, “or even differences,” among guidance from experts. With clearer goals, Allen said the public is more likely to trust leadership and embrace pandemic safety measures.

As an example, Allen used the ongoing debate around safe schooling. He said policymakers need to figure out whether their aim is to ensure zero transmission of COVID-19 in schools, or simply to keep students and educators in classrooms safely.

Acknowledging his own view, that zero transmission is unattainable in the nation’s current state, he added that division in the national discourse has led to muddled outcomes overall. And this, he said, is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere else in the country.

“In the U.S., organizations haven’t been clear on [goals.] Universities haven’t been clear. School districts haven’t been clear about it. And we think that’s the cause of the confusion,” he said.

In Massachusetts, Allen noted that Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has managed to set these sorts of goals with the state’s public K-12 schools. Though vaccines aren’t mandated, indoor mask-wearing (for anyone over the age of five) is, until October 1, when middle and high schools will have the opportunity to lift mask-wearing requirements if overall vaccination rates exceed 80% among students and staff.

“We can all work towards a goal, for a set amount of time, and know that there’s a limit,” he said. “Okay, we’ve hit — their goal is 80% vaccination. Then things come off.”