The Corner

Health Care

It’s as If the CDC Intends to Scare People

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt has a piece this morning to set the record straight about the CDC’s outdoor-transmission number. The CDC said 10 percent, which seemed incredibly high to me last month based on evidence I had seen, and which Leonhardt says today 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.

The whole thing is worth reading. By the way, Leonhardt has been very good at holding public-health experts accountable recently in a way that few in the media have been willing to, and he is playing an important role in calming those Americans panicking over this virus, or at least helping them to assess the risk better.

Finally, not so long ago, Tevi Troy — a wonderful presidential historian, author of the book Fight House, and a public-health expert — was interviewed by Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant about the United States’ COVID response. It is worth listening to, as it highlights very clearly the permanent damage done to the public perception about the usefulness of and trust in our public-health community. Troy reminds us that the public-health community is a nanny state-ish group, as well as detailing some of the strategic mistruths about mask-wearing, the BLM protests, and other matters.

Troy recommends reading this piece in the Washington Post by two public-health experts about how public-health experts make a real mistake by alienating large swaths of the population, such as conservatives. A tidbit:

Our credibility was nonetheless damaged by what seemed to be double standards. There’s a difference between trying to reduce harm wherever people are gathering during a pandemic, no matter their cause, and deciding that one cause is worth more risk than another. Americans need to know that public health professionals will not allow our political views regarding the second question to color our enthusiasm to engage the first set of challenges.

We cannot allow the public health enterprise to become estranged from conservative America. We can do better, starting with a reaffirmation that our shared values are more important than what sets us apart. No one wants their parents or grandparents to become sick from covid-19. Diabetes, substance-use disorders and cancer strike across every political line. The public health watchwords to do “nothing about us without us” apply just as surely within conservative religious communities as they do anywhere else.


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