The Illinois Department of Public health took no time at all deciding last week to say it “fully aligns” with new masking guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control, including universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status. IDHP’s announcement came only hours after the CDC announcement on Tuesday.
If you think that means the “science” behind the changes must be settled or clear, you haven’t been paying attention. Contradictions, confusion and unanswered questions from national health experts and media followed the CDC announcement, none of which is apparently of concern to IDPH.
This time, the criticism outside of Illinois isn’t coming just from the right. Sources ordinarily friendly to the Biden Administration and national public health officials had already started to call them out on dishonesty. Left-leaning Slate earlier in the week detailed four instances of what it thought at best have been white lies coming out of the federal government. Bret Stephens of the New York Times had done much of the same earlier in the week in a column headlined, “COVID information comes from the top, too.”
But things really heated up after the new CDC guidelines were announced and objections mounted over the failure of the CDC to explain the science behind them. The Washington Post published a leaked internal CDC document that apparently informed the CDC’s guidelines but raised extensive doubt and confusion on a number of issues.
Liberal Axios summarized things this way on Saturday.
The Biden administration’s handling of the Delta surge has left Americans confused and frustrated, fueling media overreaction and political manipulation. The past year and a half have left Americans cynical about the government’s COVID response, and — in many cases — misinformed or uninformed. We’re getting fog and reversals when steady, clear-eyed, factual information is needed more than ever.
What caused all the dispute and confusion over the past week?
Most of the reported problem has focused on what to make of a cluster of 882 COVID cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts in which 74% of the infected people were fully vaccinated. That chapter is described in the leaked CDC document as well as a report the CDC later published.
Three-fourths of the victims were fully vaccinated? That triggered concerns about vaccine efficacy. To what extent it should have, however, is questionable.
Look at that published report with any empirical skepticism, and you will scratch your head. It’s anecdotal, and certainly not consistent with broader data. There was huge selection bias in the cases studied and it’s unclear how many other infections occurred in the area and whether they were vaccinated.
Second, the report contains data on particularly high viral loads in the infected, vaccinated group, indicating that the vaccinated may be far more likely to be contagious than previously thought.
Alarming headlines then appeared in much of the media, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
What followed is something you certainly don’t see every day. The White House communications guy on COVID matters openly criticized both of those papers, which are ordinarily White House BFFs, for going too far. Here are his Tweets to them:
Apparently, the White House wanted to scare people enough to get vaccinated, but not so much as to cause them to question the vaccine. It didn’t work.
It sure would have been fun to see the discussions among the censors in social media over how to deal with those accusations against the NYT and Washington Post — sources the censors routinely favor. Just this past week Twitter suspended a science writer merely for posting the results of a Pfizer clinical test. Acute cognitive dissonance surely has overtaken the censors.
The most fundamental problem, however, arose from silence – silence from both the CDC and Biden Administration on the increasingly frequent requests for them to produce the science behind masks. Many health and communication experts are frustrated.
“The mistake is releasing the guidance without explanation,” said Vish Viswanath, a professor of health communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,“ quoted in the Wall Street Journal. “One of the most important principles in communicating risk in such situations is complete transparency.” Similar criticisms are collected here.
What is the science about masks that the CDC is relying on? We indeed don’t know. Studies conflict, and I’m not about to try to sort out that conflict. The point, instead, is that the CDC and the White House should. They should be presenting a full analysis of how they interpret the conflicting studies. They haven’t done so, leaving harsher critics like Dr. Marc Siegel to say on Fox that there “is no science” behind mask mandates. In Illinois, the matter likewise goes unanswered.
Two further, important matters haven’t gotten much media attention.
First, many recent headlines, like this on CNN, say the CDC concluded that the new, prevalent Delta variant of the virus causes “more severe” infections than the original virus. That’s a big claim because the widespread reporting earlier had only said that Delta is more contagious, which it clearly is, but not more severe, which is presumably why deaths have not spiked up along with infections.
What’s the evidence that Delta is “more severe”? The headlines are based only on vague information in the leaked CDC document to that effect.
Interestingly, an initial sub-headline in a New York Times column made the claim, too, but they changed the sub-headline and still haven’t noted the change. That’s bad journalism. The initial sub-headline on the article said, “Infections in vaccinated Americans also may be as transmissible as those in unvaccinated people, the document said, and lead more often to severe illness.”
But the body of the article claimed nothing to that effect. Whether there’s any basis for the other widespread headlines claiming “more severe” infections obviously needs discussion, which is absent so far.
Second, there’s a real doozy in that leaked CDC document that nobody else has noticed as far as I can see.
Their model is based on the assumption, it says, that 50% of all cases are reported. In other words, two actual cases occur for every reported case.
What? The CDC’s own website currently says that there are 4.2 actual cases for every reported case.
This is hugely important because it tells us how many Americans were already infected and therefore have natural immunity, which studies now consistently say is at least as robust as being vaccinated. If natural immunity is high, then we might be heading for a quick drop-off in cases just as has happened recently in the United Kingdom.
It’s a topic that the establishment has been suppressing consistently, as we have written about often. We’ve been criticizing IDHP and the Pritzker administration on that since April 2020. It’s one of the topics that Slate says Anthony Fauci has been fibbing about.
We’ve followed this matter closely and nobody has ever suggested that the ratio of actual to confirmed cases is as low as 2:1, as the CDC document assumes. Last November, the CDC said the ratio was 11:1, which it backed off of with no good explanation. We know that many politicians and much of the media ignore the topic of natural immunity, but is the CDC blind to it as well?
None of these questions appears to be of importance in Illinois, so the IDHP sheepishly followed right along with the CDC’s new guidelines. New mask guidelines, that largely function as mandates, are now in place, and tougher restrictions apparently may be coming.
By Mark Glennon of Wirepoints