No other government agency has accelerated its own demise in the last year faster than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s stuffed to the brim with scientists and doctors and virologists, yet instead of rising to the occasion of a global pandemic, the bureaucracy shattered its reputation and credibility beyond repair.
As Americans slowly learned more about the novel virus and its risks over the course of the last year, they looked to the CDC for expert guidance. The agency responded by only confusing Americans, issuing guidance that not only contradicted their own previous guidelines but also the very thing they claim to represent: science.
‘Do Not Wear Masks’
The warning signs of the agency’s incompetency began at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. We should have known the experts did not always put the science first in advising Americans on how to live their lives when we learned they instructed us not to wear face coverings, not based on scientific evidence, but out of fear of mask shortages.
“If you are NOT sick, 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),” the CDC said, citing the “short supply.”
This guidance set aside what we knew even then, that you can contract COVID-19 without realizing it, even carry it while asymptomatic. Multiple studies published in January, February, and March documented asymptomatic transmission, but they ignored those, putting vulnerable individuals at risk anyway. It wasn’t until April that the agency suddenly reversed course and began encouraging everyone to wear face coverings.
Undermining the Efficacy of the Vaccine
On Thursday, the CDC finally announced what they should have been saying for the last three months: If you are vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask, social distance, or continue living your life in fear of COVID-19.
It’s unclear why they have been saying otherwise since the vaccine has become widely available to all Americans, but by doing so, they undermined the efficacy of the vaccine and further discouraged individuals who are hesitant to receive it. Why get the vaccine if the CDC says your life will not return to “normal” anyway?
These mixed messages were most often delivered by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who would constantly praise the modern miracle of the vaccine’s efficacy, then immediately undermined that news with instructions on why you should still follow all the same precautions as when not vaccinated. In just one example from April, Walensky said vaccinated individuals can now travel safely, but that the CDC would not recommend it.
“While we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases,” she said.
In another recent example, less than a week before issuing Thursday’s guidance that lifts mask-wearing and social distancing for vaccinated individuals, the CDC issued guidance for kids’ summer camps. Even though children are at significantly lower risk and every adult at camp will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, the CDC says “all people in camp facilities should wear masks at all times.” That’s all adults, staff, and campers over the age of two.
Just a reminder that 2 days ago Walensky said she’s not letting her vaccinated son go to camp this summer so this is totally in line with her regular disjointed messaging. https://t.co/MX1OzMbv36
— Karol Markowicz (@karol) May 13, 2021
Contradicting Guidance for Pregnant Women
In another blunder by Walensky, the CDC walked back her statement regarding one of the most vaccine-hesitant groups: pregnant women. The “CDC recommends that pregnant people receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Walensky said in late April, only to have her agency clarify that its guidelines for pregnant women haven’t changed since they were announced in March.
Those guidelines state that “if you are pregnant, you may choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine” but caution pregnant women to weigh the risks posed by vaccination and the virus against one another. The guidelines do not explicitly “recommend” that pregnant women get vaccinated.
Contradicting, Unfounded, and Corrupt Guidance for Schools
If confusing pregnant women wasn’t bad enough, Walensky pulled a similar flip flop on the “science” of how to safely distance children in schools.
Last July, a Massachusetts school district was trying to figure out to safely reopen their schools. The mayor of Newton emailed Harvard’s chief of infectious diseases on whether she had thoughts on separating kids six feet versus the World Health Organization’s recommended three feet. The professor replied:
I do think if people are masked it is quite safe and much more practical to be at 3 feet. I think this is very viable for the middle/high schools and even late grade schools and would improve the feasibility. I suspect you may want to be at 6f for some of the very young kids who can’t mask.
That professor was Rochelle Walensky. When she became CDC director in January this year, however, three feet suddenly became unsafe again. She recommended “physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people with cohorting or podding of students to minimize exposure across the school environment.”
But perhaps a bigger issue than retracting or changing guidance is issuing guidance that is not based on science at all. In school guidance, the CDC recommends all adults and students over the age of two wear masks at all times, even outside. The CDC admits shared recreational equipment like playgrounds, jungle gyms, swing sets, and tricycles “are important for healthy child development,” but maintains they still “pose a risk for spreading COVID-19.”
The agency simply ignores facts like children being an extremely low-risk population. So far, fewer than 300 children and teenagers have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. total. On average, 700 U.S. children die each year by drowning. An average of 12,175 children die each year from an unintentional injury like car accidents.
The CDC’s guidance seems to imply it is more concerned about the slim chance that a child dies from COVID-19 than they are children’s general wellbeing and development. They also ignore facts that pertain to adults and teachers in schools, again undermining the fact that the vaccine appears to reduce COVID-19 deaths almost entirely.
Finally, a few weeks ago we learned that the CDC isn’t just ignoring what we know from scientific studies and vaccine trials, but actively seeking input from non-scientific players who also have a vested interest in school guidance: teachers unions. Watchdog group Americans for Public Trust obtained emails between top CDC officials, White House officials, and representatives for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Emails show AFT lobbied the CDC just days before it issued its school guidance in February. “In at least two instances, language ‘suggestions’ offered by the union were adopted nearly verbatim into the final text of the CDC document,” the New York Post reports. When asked how this was defensible, the White House press secretary stood behind it as a “longstanding best practice.”
There is surely good and important work being done by the actual scientists and experts at the CDC, so it’s a true shame, and to the detriment of our entire country, that their work will be completely overshadowed by how those at the top mismanaged, lied, and bent to politics of this moment. Walensky, and the officials below her as well as those who preceded her in 2020, destroyed the credibility of the entire organization, giving Americans no reason to trust any of their baseless guidance ever again.