Whatever the abrupt and confusingly communicated CDC volte face on masking was about, it certainly wasn’t “following the science”. That is, unless “Follow the science” actually means “Follow what credentialed officials say, irrespective of whether it makes any sense.” At a minimum, Congresscritters need to haul CDC head Rochelle Walensky and Covid talking head in chief Anthony Fauci in to ‘splain their masking and social distancing 180.
As readers have likely heard, the CDC issued new guidelines on Thursday which amount to declaring victory against Covid, with only 35% of Americans fully vaccinated and it not known whether “breakthrough” asymptomatic cases can spread the disease. The CDC thinks it’s now reasonable to operate on a vaccination honor system and have the vaccinated ditch masks and social distancing. This comes after at least two months of fulminating about the necessity of vaccine passports. I guess someone got the memo, as we pointed out early on, that they are non-starters in most US states due to privacy and civil rights laws.
And if anyone was so deluded as to think this change would create an incentive to get vaccinated, they weren’t very imaginative:
I’ll just identify as vaccinated and not wear a mask? https://t.co/W6ST6tLFkP
— Austin Miller (@_austinmiller22) May 14, 2021
Recall that large-scale repeated testing in the UK has established that elementary-school children were 2x as likely as adults to bring Covid into a household, and older children, 7x as likely. These cases would all or nearly all have been asymptomatic. We have no basis for thinking that asymptomatic cases among the vaccinated operate any differently until we have evidence. But in an bureaucratic version of putting fingers in ears and yelling “Nah Nah Nah,” the CDC announced the week prior that it was no longer going to keep tabs on asymptomatic cases.
The CDC’s own rationalization, to the extent it has one, is embarrassingly off point. Per CNN:
A fresh batch of data from a big study of health care workers across the country helped prompt the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say fully vaccinated people can go without masks in most circumstances, the agency said Friday.
The study found that real-life use of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provided 94% protection for the front-line workers immunized at the beginning of the vaccine rollout. A single dose provided 82% protection, the CDC-led team reported in the agency’s weekly report, the MMWR.
It was the findings from the new study, on top of earlier studies, that pushed CDC to decide to loosen its advice on who needs to wear a mask and when, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
“This report provided the most compelling information to date that COVID-19 vaccines were performing as expected in the real world,” Walensky said in a statement Friday.
This is absurd. What about an irrelevant sample don’t you understand?
First, having a medical professional in the family confers a health and longevity advantage, particularly in lower-income cohorts.
Second, health care workers are by definition working…so this study omits the elderly, the population most at risk from bad Covid outcomes
Third, the majority of heath care professionals are robust and active. Nurses, nursing home workers, ER doctors and surgeons spend a lot of time on their feet.
Finally, health care workers would be super duper masked up at work, often with shields too, using gloves….and with high quality ventilation, and strict hygiene standards! How can drug efficacy in a setting of required mask use tell you anything about efficacy with no masks?!?!
Add to that that the vaccination level population-wide isn’t high enough even if you bought the CDC’s off-point study. From GM:
The Seychelles fully vaccinated 63% of the population (the US is at 47% with one does and 35% fully vaccinated right now), then reopened fully, internally and for tourists.
Nobody since the beginning of the pandemic had ever had 300/100K per day positives. Not even 200, not even 150, the worst waves have been around 100-120 (at least officially, it certainly did happen in some places where testing was low)). The Seychelles is at 320/100K this week.
Yes, it’s Coronavac + AstraZeneca, not Pfizer+Moderna, but still.
Similar situation in the Maldives — vaccinated 45% of the population, opened up, right now at 215/100K cases a day.
Suppose this stuff never really goes away and continues to kill and cripple (long covid) tens or hundreds of thousands a year in the US. How can we individually or in small communities jury-rig a decently rewarding life under such circumstances?
Nobody has any intention to care about whether you live a decently rewarding life. Nobody has any intention to care about whether you live, period.
This is the most depressing part about the whole COVID story — class warfare moved from the realm of economics towards direct physical extermination. And yet the masses not only did not realize what happened, but are cheering for the fact that the virus is now endemic and the US will not do anything about it beyond vaccination. By extension, the same thing is happening in most of the rest of the world.
The proper reaction was to realize that this is the ruling class telling everyone “you are physically disposable and we will readily end your life if it suits our purposes”, and to act accordingly, but not such awareness developed — the propaganda machine did its job marvelously.
Aside from anti-vaxxers, business owners, and Biden-bubble-dwellers, plenty of Americans are unhappy with this reversal. The National Nurses Union, Nancy Pelosi and Governor Cuomo have rejected it. Down here in the Deep South, so far I see little change in behavior. Our house conservative, John Beech in the oil patch disapproved:
Small sample but of five friends of whom I inquired, ‘What do you think of the new CD guidelines?’ all five said, in a word, stupid. And I tried really hard not to give any indication of my personal leanings but they all mirrored my sentiments. Anyway, I don’t know what our government is thinking will be the overall population-reaction but this makes prospects of our resuming to go out to dinner with friends significantly less likely. After all, a restaurant by its very nature means no masking. Odds of our exposing ourselves to Karen anti-vaxxers and covidiots are nil so the $800-1000 we once spent eating out each month will not be happening again any time soon. I cannot fathom what they were thinking. Nice thing about when Trump was president is had he proclaimed this the entire media apparatus would have rushed to condemn him but with President Biden in command, their reaction is muted. Sigh.
And No Party:
The Biden admin’s incompetence on this point is the final nail in the coffin for me. Forcing us to manage the confusion over masking requirements at the individual/local level is one of the most neoliberal plays I’ve ever seen. Especially for a policy that is impossible to implement no less. It says to me that what meager government assistance we’ve received to day is over – we’re all on our own now when it comes to COVID. There will be no more attempts at a coordinated federal and state response – every actor will decide for themselves how best to proceed, and we’ll be forced to manage the inevitable conflict as best as we can.
If nothing else, this sorry episode conclusively demonstrates Rochelle Walensky’s incompetence, not that that was in any doubt. We had warned as soon as she was designated CDC chief that she looked to be over her head, but she’s proven that faster and more conclusively than critical-minded moi could ever have imagined. A few of too many examples prior to last week: breaking down in tears over vaccine hesitancy, worrying about adequacy of ventilator supplies long after hospitals had worked out all they did for Covid cases was prolong dying, declaring that being vaccinated meant you could not contract Covid.
The flip flop was obvious and badly handled. MSN reported that the CDC had been working on new mask guidance but even its staff found the recommendations to be confusing. But even with something more permissive in the works, and the CDC just having conceded on aerosols, Walensky got in a bizarre and counter-productive dispute with Susan Collins in Senate hearings on Tuesday. I strongly urge you to watch the exchange. For the second part of the response, Walensky goes into Big Lie, and the third, ties herself to the railroad track in front of the guidance that her own agency is about to issue:
CDC GUIDELINES: During Tuesday's Senate Health Committee hearing, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) pressed Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on "senseless" and "unfairly draconian" summer camp guidelines. pic.twitter.com/DrOVOeaNlw
— Forbes (@Forbes) May 15, 2021
Dr. Fauci didn’t come off well in the hearings either. Rand Paul pilloried him for the NIH having funded gain of function research on Fauci’s watch (remember, he’s been director of the Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984) and Fauci simply lied, saying the NIH had never done any such thing, when its own site says otherwise.
What is telling is how utterly inept both Walensky and Fauci were. Having watched way too many hearings with banksters and regulators hauled before Congress, the ritual is simple: get through it and offer as little attack surface as possible. What happens in those hearings counts for just about nothing unless you generate a soundbite for the opposition.
Bernanke was particularly good at looking blandly agreeable and bored, which is actually extremely insulting but impossible to challenge. A government official can act as he’ll take what is said under advisement (as in feign a concession), run out the clock by acting confused, asking for clarification or thumping on talking points, or do a Teflon stonewall: I understand your concerns and we agree to disagree. You do not do what Walensky did, which is give silly point by point responses. You actually address the issues only if you are sure you have the winning hand.
The Thursday announcement had the look of a panicked response to the shellacking in the Senate on Tuesday. CDC watchers confirm that the launch was rushed. For instance, there was no press release. Amber Schmidtke of Georgia Covid Watch (hat tip KLG) provided more color:
On Friday, I sent a message to one of my pandemic besties, another public health professional saying, “this is the hardest day of the pandemic since lockdown.” The previous day CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told Americans (and by virtue of CDC’s reach, the world) that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks and we could go to an honor system of masking in the public. It sent shockwaves through the public health field because of how poorly thought out both the words and roll out of the new policy was. It led to confusion and anxiety. It unintendedly gave cover to those who have been anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-pandemic this whole time to push their risk tolerance onto others. It put businesses into disarray, trying to figure out what to do to protect their employees while serving the public. But in addition, it signaled a new chapter in the pandemic with the predictable consequence that schools, businesses and jurisdictions immediately lifted their mask mandates. It may not have been intended, but the CDC Director effectively waved the white flag for the United States on the pandemic…
I’ve been through the clearance process at CDC to publish public-facing material. Every word in public health communication matters. So before submitting an article for peer review to a scientific publication, the agency goes through its own internal peer review process with its science, data, and communications. It doesn’t matter how deep in the laboratory data or statistics you might be, every word you say is scrutinized for how the public will receive that information and possibly misinterpret it. Words are chosen to avoid that misinterpretation, to make it abundantly clear what the CDC is and is not saying….
But this decision didn’t seem to get the same scrutiny. The decision caught not only public health professionals but even the White House off guard. When the CDC rolls out policy changes, its websites are coordinated to reflect the new guidance almost immediately. There are still pages that don’t reflect the new guidance, indicating that this was not a coordinated decision – the rank and file of CDC were not part of this. In the past administration, we saw a number of “rogue” accounts for various federal agencies pop up on social media, trying to speak up for a work force who was afraid to speak out but knew something was wrong. The one for CDC was silent after January 13th 2021, but began tweeting again after the Director’s decision this week. When you have good morale in your organization, this sort of communication is not needed.
When the CDC says “your health is in your hands” after loosening their guidelines, they abandon their responsibility to safeguard public health. Disgraceful. https://t.co/aPJVcTcob6
— Rogue CDC (@RogueCDCgov) May 16, 2021
An alternate theory on the rushed timing pooh poohs the White House being out of the loop (Biden was ready with his soundbite) and argues that the Administration, already with weak poll ratings, was concerned about the barrage of bad news (lines at gas pumps, and not abating all that soon either), inflation, particularly in food prices, and workers defying the Neoliberal Gods by staying away from McJobs with Covid risk.
CNN's Abby Phillip: "Searing visuals" of gas lines brings "people back to the Carter years" pic.twitter.com/H8eBIZLrIk
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) May 16, 2021
The bad headlines out of Israel are unlikely to move the average voter, but they reflect the fact that Biden has so boxed himself in on the foreign policy front that he can’t gin up a good story there. So was mask relief the only seemingly happy story the Biden team could launch pronto?
As to the substance, this change confirms that the Biden Administration is preserving the Trump priorities of favoring business over public health and treating vaccines as a magic bullet. Individuals with contacts confirm that the CDC foot-dragging on aerosols was in large measure driven by a desire to spare businesses and schools the cost of improving ventilation. Notice how quickly the “Covid is over” celebration followed the aerosols climbdown.
Another possible driver is the Republican hissy over the recent weak employment report. Even though various experts have debunked some of the claims made (for instance, EPI pointed out that there’s no evidence of labor shortages since wage gains only put workers bak on the pre-Covid trend line), Biden felt compelled to make an empty “no more dole for you” statement:
President Biden: "Anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits." pic.twitter.com/CEABOXjoNj
— The Hill (@thehill) May 10, 2021
This in fact is existing law, and there are all sorts of exceptions, such as not being required to take a night shift position, or drive long distances…or take health risks. OSHA is the final decider on issues like that, and OSHA has yet to issue Covid workplace guidance. Contacts say that CDC footdragging has been a big contributor. The CDC’s newfound belief that employees are not at risk from non-mask-wearing vaccinated pretenders is insane, but it appears the agency is perfectly content to sacrifice restaurant and hospitality industry staffers…because talking points? Because party consensus? Because economy? Whatever the rationale, it’s mean-spirited and destructive.
If I were more mercenary, I’d start a prediction market on when a big US city next goes into lockdown. It’s one way to short our public health incompetence. But I have better things to do than profit from ruin.