The CDC, masks, and the incompetence of public health officials

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on May 17, 2021

Former President Donald Trump rightly received a lot of flak over his continual failure to stay on message as the spread of COVID-19 eventually led to lockdowns, skyrocketing unemployment, and hundreds of thousands of Americans dead. However, if the public pronouncements of our public health officials under the Joe Biden presidency are any indication of what they were communicating to Trump one year ago, then maybe Trump's slipshod public relations campaign wasn't solely the Orange One's fault.

The Incompetence of the CDC

It was just a few weeks ago that I first ripped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over their updated masking guidance that allowed fully vaccinated people two additional public "privileges" over the unvaccinated—both of which took place outside. According to the CDC's chart, the fully vaccinated could "Attend a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people," and "Dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households," without wearing a mask…and nothing else.

It should go without saying that this was not a good method for getting the so-called "vaccine hesitant" to schedule an appointment and get the jab.

Over the past few days, the CDC has turned over a new leaf. With vaccines available to basically anyone who wants one, there's no reason to continue these draconian mask restrictions and public health regulations that are based on fear and not science.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky's incompetence

If you thought Dr. Anthony Fauci was bad (and you should), then Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC is unarguably worse.

On May 11,  The New York Times reported that the number the CDC touted about the rate of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 of less than 10 percent was  both true and a lie. It was the sort of "truth" that would get a "mostly true" rating on Politifact's "Truth-O-Meter," but would strike everyone who wasn't a partisan hack as a lie.

But the number is almost certainly misleading.

It appears to be based partly on a misclassification of some Covid transmission that actually took place in enclosed spaces (as I explain below). An even bigger issue is the extreme caution of C.D.C. officials, who picked a benchmark — 10 percent — so high that nobody could reasonably dispute it.

That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.

Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving.

Public health officials everywhere relied on this garbage number and people suffered. In Oregon, high school junior Maggie Williams broke the girls school record for the 800 meters—and promptly collapsed unconscious, face-first, at the finish line. She was wearing a mask mandated by the Oregon Health Authority during competition and complained that she just couldn't catch her breath through the face covering.

After her record, and physical collapse, made the news, the OHA changed its rule to waive mask-wearing while competing, but not while training or before or after competing.

Walensky on Capitol Hill

At a hearing on Capitol Hill later the same day the Times report was published, Walensky was confronted over her agency's nonsensical COVID-19 guidance by Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

“So here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps,” Collins said. “Why does this matter? It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendations, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following. I'd like you to respond to why the CDC is not following the standard procedures, why it is having offline secret negotiations with one stakeholder that was revealed only through reporting in a FOIA request, [and] why it is exaggerating outdoor transmission.”

In response, Walensky told Collins that she wouldn't be sending her 16-year-old son to summer camp this year because it wasn't safe.

"I have a 16-year-old. Every year when he comes home from camp he writes the number of days until he returns to camp the next year," Walesky [sic] responded. "This year I got to 0 and told him he wasn't going. I want our kids back in camp. Right now we average 38,000 new infections per day. Last year it was 24,000."

This was Tuesday of last week.

The whole world changes in 48 hours

Two days later, on Thursday, the CDC comes out with an announcement that vaccinated people can do basically whatever they want without masks.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters Thursday. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy."

You'll have to excuse the CDC director for filling hospital emergency rooms with patients suffering from whiplash. It's unclear if Walensky's 16-year-old son will get to go to summer camp after all, since he is eligible for the vaccine and it would be incredibly irresponsible of his mother to deny it to him.

So what changed? The science certainly didn't, though CDC over-caution and deceit was exposed. They didn't get a whole bunch of new data in the intervening 48 hours and realize that they had turned the corner. None of the trend lines on infection rates, hospitalization rates, or deaths had changed.

Texas lifted its statewide mask mandate March 10, and the predicted (oftentimes with glee) COVID resurgence never happened. Florida announced May 4 that they were lifting all local COVID restrictions in the state effective July 1. Democrats in the Sunshine State quickly denounced Gov. Ron DeSantis, but less than two weeks later, statements like this one don't appear to have held up well.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman lashed out at DeSantis for the move.

"Forgive me if I want to follow the experts and the opinions of experts like the CDC," the Democrat said on ABC News’ podcast "Start Here" on Tuesday morning. "Not even quite 44% yet of the population of my county has been [at least partially] vaccinated. I was really hoping ... to get at least above 50% vaccinations before we start looking at scaling back. But we've scaled back."

"Truthfully ... 70%, we're never going to see that," he said citing the 70% vaccinated population threshold experts say needs to be reached for herd immunity. "I mean, I'd love to say we would ... [but] I don't think we'll hit it. Because for whatever reason, it's become politicized. Our health has become politicized. And that should have never, ever happened in this country."

Kriseman gives the game away here, and provides good reason why the state legislature gave the governor power to invalidate these local emergency orders. If 70% is a number they will never reach, then why would St. Petersburg ever let their heightened public health emergency powers lapse?

CDC catches up to the facts on the ground

What had changed in the past couple of weeks was the vaccination rates.

NYT Vaccination Rate Tracker

According to the Times, the number of vaccine doses per day peaked in mid-April at with a rolling 7-day average of about 3.3 million doses. Then the CDC paused use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over six reported blot clot cases out of 6.8 million doses administered. This overreaction caused a lot of people to have second thoughts about the vaccine. The current 7-day average is just 1.89 million doses per day.

Add to that screwup the aforementioned strict masking guidelines and someone with half a brain finally realized that people respond to incentives, and the CDC and Biden Administration hadn't given them any that were worthwhile. So, the CDC decides, finally, to follow the science and acknowledge that vaccines work and there is no reason to live like you might catch COVID if you've been vaccinated against it.

Walensky screws up again

Then Walensky does her tour of the Sunday morning talk shows, and screws it up again.

"We now have science that has really just evolved even in the last two weeks that demonstrates that these vaccines are safe, they are effective."

Excuse me? The science has evolved in the last two weeks that the vaccines are safe and effective? My 98-year-old grandmother and my septuagenarian parents were vaccinated months ago!

Of course, the science has said all along that the vaccines were safe and effective. Walensky winds up and puts her foot in her mouth with such force that it's a wonder she doesn't need dental implants. In trying to justify the CDC's rapid evolution on mask mandates she provides more ammunition for the anti-vaxxers who think COVID-19 is a cover for a plot to inject Americans with tracking microchips.

Still beholden to the teachers' unions, Walensky also walked back the guidance on what vaccinated persons can do when it comes to school classrooms.

"We've got a lot of questions about schools," Walensky told CNN's Dana Bash during an appearance on "State of the Union." "We will not be changing our guidance for the end of this school year. Most kids will not be vaccinated or fully vaccinated before the end of this year, and we're going to work on updating our school guidance."

Much like the George Floyd-inspired protests during the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 virus apparently knows when and where it is allowed to spread through the population. Left wing protests: No go. School classrooms: Green light.

Once again, the science says that the young are less likely to catch and transmit the virus. When they do get the virus, young people (without compromised immune systems due to pre-existing conditions) are the least likely to need hospitalization or die from COVID-19. Why must schools be different from any other interior space? If you're vaccinated, take the mask off. If not, wear it.

(Largely Democratic) Governors are anti-science now

The vaccine works. If you're vaccinated the odds of you contracting the virus are vanishingly small. Should you contract the virus anyway, it's even less likely that you'll transmit it to any other person, need hospitalization, or die.

Democrats who were so skeptical of anything "the science" said when Trump occupied the Oval Office because of a fear the Orange Man was somehow subverting the truth for political gain have discovered a brand new respect for skepticism of the federal government's executive agencies.

In deep blue California, the Department of Public Health announced earlier today that they were unmoved by "the science" and would maintain the state's restrictive mask mandates until June 15. The head of the California State University system announced that there won't be a return to normal in the fall at the systems campuses.

“I think fall will certainly be a transitional semester for us,” Chancellor Joseph I. Castro told The Bee’s Education Lab. “I anticipate more in-person instruction and yet we won’t return to how it was prior to the pandemic.”

Tuition prices will remain the same.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, signaling his virtue on Twitter with a masked avatar, announced last week that New Jersey too would ignore the CDC's judgment and keep their indoor mask mandates in place indefinitely. In an effort to attempt to stave off mass revolt, earlier today he announced the repeal of the outdoor mask mandate.

Hawaii's Democratic Gov. David Ige was unmoved by the CDC's abrupt shift.

“The state mask mandate continues to be in force,” Ige said. “The CDC is not able to help us identify who is vaccinated and who is not, and that detail is left to the state and counties.”

This is a good point. Maybe we can make people who aren't vaccinated wear something on their clothing so they can be identified. Maybe yellow stars?

And, of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to reconsider the mask mandate on the House floor.

The CDC's credibility: Shot

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky's obvious lies and misstatements designed to cover for the politicization of her agency have demolished its credibility.

Two weeks ago, a series of emails between the American Federation of Teachers and the CDC showed how the government agency changed its guidance to please the union.

The CDC was preparing to update its guidance to reflect its belief that schools could fully reopen, regardless of community spread of COVID-19. But the AFT successfully lobbied the CDC to add a line reading, “In the event of high community-transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, a new update of these guidelines may be necessary” while allowing teachers “who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for … COVID-19” to work from home.

The CDC guidance stopped short of calling for all schools to reopen, instead opting for color-coded charts that recommended that districts in “red” zones with “high” community spread keep their middle and high schools closed to in-person learning.

There's no fixing this in the short to medium term. We should hope and pray that it's another 100 years before the next global pandemic strikes and the memory of this one has diminished to cold, emotionless lines in a history book, because our public health officials have given us no reason to trust them when it's most important.

Update 5/18/2021, 8:20 a.m. PDT

Fauci is an ass

Dr. Anthony "The Ass" Fauci appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning and confessed to being a lying ass.

During a congressional hearing back in March, Fauci bristled at [Sen. Rand] Paul’s suggestion that his continued insistence that vaccinated Americans must wear masks was just theater. “Let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective” replied a visibly irritated Fauci when asked why he attended the public hearing in a mask after being fully vaccinated.

Now, he admits that Paul’s analysis of the the need for masks, as well as of Fauci’s motivations was correct.

“Before the CDC made the recommendation change, I didn’t want to look like I was giving mixed signals. But being a fully vaccinated person, the chances of my getting infected in an indoor setting is extremely low” Fauci explained to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. The CDC announced last week that vaccinated Americans could go without masks indoors, with certain rare exceptions.

Fauci has single-handedly done more damage to trust in public health officials than any other person in history, including the doctors in the dark ages who used leeches. I understand how talking head shows want to have him on, but they should be ripping him as a liar in every appearance and challenging him on every statement he makes if it's made for political reasons or its really the truth.


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May 2021



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