From the start, the public health establishment has projected an air of certitude in its advice and policy prescriptions on COVID-19 belied by a record of error on many of the central questions.
Time and again throughout the coronavirus pandemic you’ve heard it. As public health authorities and state and local elected officials blanketed the nation with restrictions on public mobility and assembly, work and worship, they waved aside doubts and objections with the assurance that they were simply following the “data and the science”; this as if data are always complete, reliable, transparent and unambiguous, and scientific opinion is always monolithic, settled, and immune to challenge.
In reality, “the data and the science” pertaining to the new coronavirus have been partial, often ambiguous, sometimes arbitrary and misleading, even fraudulent — and continually shifting. Mistakes, of course, were inevitable when trying to understand and contain an unfamiliar, complex and highly contagious new virus. But when recurring expert error is coupled with an expectation that the public should mutely maintain an unquestioning faith in the claims of “the data and the science” — as has often been the case during the pandemic — the result may be a severe erosion in the credibility of public health authorities. Here are 10 things the public health establishment got wrong:
1. Threat level: On Jan. 21, the day the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was confirmed, National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci appeared on conservative Newsmax TV and said: “Obviously, you need to take it seriously and do the kind of things the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security is doing. But this is not a major threat to the people of the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”
By April 1, CDC Director Robert Redfield would be saying, “This is the greatest public health crisis that has hit this nation in more than 100 years.”
2. Masks: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” So tweeted Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Feb. 29. “They are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” The CDC initially said, “If you are sick, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.” But “if you are NOT sick,” it added, “you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask).” That link now leads to the declaration with a subheading in large letters: “Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.”U.S. Surgeon General✔@Surgeon_General
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
3. Asymptomatic transmission: Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said at a June 8 news briefing, “From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” adding, “It’s very rare.” She explained the importance of this for policy purposes. “What we really want to be focused on is following the symptomatic cases,” Van Kerkhove said. “If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those contacts, we would drastically reduce” the outbreak.
After a backlash that “sent shock waves throughout the world”, according to a CNBC report and sparked a “furious scientific debate,” according to The Washington Post, Kerhove executed a 180 within a day. “We don’t actually have that answer yet,” she said. “I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that.”
4. Mortality rate: WHO’s initial mortality rate for COVID-19 was 3.4%, more than an order of magnitude higher than seasonal flu, which is usually pegged at about 0.1%. But recently the CDC put its “best guess” figure at 0.26%. That’s still higher than the seasonal flu but far lower than the 0.67% death rate of the “Asian flu” of 1957-1958 (H2N2), which, according to the CDC, killed an estimated 223,000 Americans and 3 million worldwide adjusted to today’s populations. That pandemic led to no panic in the U.S., no suspensions of civil liberties, no worldwide recession.
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