With Trump out of office and Biden now taking credit for all pandemic-related progress, several new studies – some of them picked up by MSM outlets, have significantly dialed back the fear (asymptomatic spread is less common than previously thought, surfaces are actually pretty safe, etc.).
Now, the New York Times of all outlets is calling out the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for a bullshit claim that “less than 10 percent” of COVID-19 transmission happens outdoors.
In reality, it’s more like 1% or less, and the Times nails them on it.
“…the number is almost certainly misleading,” writes David Leonhardt. “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.”
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. -NYT
The CDC is then called out for continuing to treat outdoor transmission as a major risk – saying unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings, while those who have gotten the jab should still wear them at “large public venues.” Summer camps, meanwhile, should require children to wear them “at all times” according to the agency.
The Times continues:
“These recommendations would be more grounded in science if anywhere close to 10 percent of Covid transmission were occurring outdoors. But it is not. There is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table.“
Next, the CDC’s foundation for the 10% claim on outdoor spread is torn asunder – with the Times noting that the academic research cited relies almost exclusively on construction sites in Singapore.
In one study, 95 of 10,926 worldwide instances of transmission are classified as outdoors; all 95 are from Singapore construction sites. In another study, four of 103 instances are classified as outdoors; again, all four are from Singapore construction sites.
This obviously doesn’t make much sense. It instead appears to be a misunderstanding that resembles the childhood game of telephone, in which a message gets garbled as it passes from one person to the next.
The Singapore data originally comes from a government database there. That database does not categorize the construction-site cases as outdoor transmission, Yap Wei Qiang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told my colleague Shashank Bengali. “We didn’t classify it according to outdoors or indoors,” Yap said. “It could have been workplace transmission where it happens outdoors at the site, or it could also have happened indoors within the construction site.”
As Shashank did further reporting, he discovered reasons to think that many of the infections may have occurred indoors. At some of the individual construction sites where Covid spread — like a complex for the financial firm UBS and a skyscraper project called Project Glory — the concrete shells for the buildings were largely completed before the pandemic began. (This video of Project Glory was shot more than four months before Singapore’s first reported Covid case.)
Because Singapore is hot year-round, the workers would have sought out the shade of enclosed spaces to hold meetings and eat lunch together, Alex Au of Transient Workers Count Too, an advocacy group, told Shashank. Electricians and plumbers would have worked in particularly close contact. -NYT
Responding to the Times over their 10% figure, the CDC admitted that there are “limited data on outdoor transmission,’ adding that “The data we do have supports the hypothesis that the risk of outdoor transmission is low,” and that “10 percent is a conservative estimate from a recent systematic review of peer-reviewed papers.”
This type of answer erring on the side of extreme caution has only added to widespread confusion – causing some Americans to ignore other CDC guidance.
Still, the no-mask crowd won’t like the Times conclusion, which is that “scientific evidence points to a conclusion that is much simpler than the C.D.C.’s message: Masks make a huge difference indoors and rarely matter outdoors.”