The response of the scientific community to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in size, speed and discovery output. Within months of virus emergence, the SARS-CoV-2 genomics, replication, evolution and dissemination dynamics as well as natural history, infection risk and prognostic factors and biology of the disease have been gradually deciphered. More than 250 articles on COVID-19 published in Frontiers in Public Health have contributed to these insights. We discuss here some of the key research themes and challenges that have been addressed. We provide our perspective on current research issues with surveillance data quality and limitations of epidemiological methods. We warn against the potential misuse or misleading interpretation of public data of variable quality and the use of inadequate study designs for the evaluation of effect of non-pharmaceutical interventions. We conclude by interrogating possible public health strategies for pandemic control as well as discuss the ethical responsibilities and democratic accountability of researchers in their role as experts and policy advisors.