Tens of millions of Americans who have relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on dealing with Covid-19 are now adrift. Maggie Koerth, a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight, charges that the agency “mired in political influence” has “failed to address many of the most relevant questions for day-to-day decision-making.”
This lack of leadership has consequences, Koerth observes. Having lost faith in the CDC’s ever-changing advice, many who previously heeded its counsel are now seeking wisdom “in the dark alleys of the internet, hoping the information we’re getting is the real deal and not just another cheap Rolex.”
Koerth is among those who have followed — or tried to follow — CDC’s shifting and often poorly evidenced guidance. They wore gloves when CDC told them to wear gloves, ditched the gloves and donned cloth masks when told they warded off viruses, cleansed their food with Clorox wipes and their hands with Purell, locked themselves and their families in their homes, got “fully vaccinated” with two jabs, and then a third when told that two weren’t enough, strapped masks on their two-year-olds, and got their kids vaxxed, double-vaxxed, and triple-vaxxed.
Then came Omicron.
Communities with shuttered schools, mask mandates, and vaccine passports had an explosion of cases. In New York and Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, mask wearers, the boosted, and those who foreswore handshakes and hugs got infected. The spike in cases dwarfed previous highs, and fears of overcrowded hospitals recurred.
Undeterred by those sobering facts, the president once again called it a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The unvaccinated “are crowding our hospitals, leaving little room for anyone else who might have a heart attack or an injury in an automobile accident or any injury at all,” he alleged.
Biden’s Claims Are Not Supported by Data
As with the president’s previous pandemic pronouncements, this one is unsupported by the data.
First, hospitals routinely test everyone they admit for Covid-19. According to Health and Human Services, just over 22 percent of inpatient beds were “in use for COVID-19” on January 19. That doesn’t mean that 22 percent of inpatients occupied those beds because they tested positive for Covid. Many were receiving treatment for conditions unrelated to Covid.
Second, the administration does not keep track of how many hospitalized patients with positive Covid tests are vaccinated. Other countries do. Their data do not support the president’s indictment of the unvaccinated.
Health authorities in the United Kingdom report that, as of December 29, two-thirds of hospital patients who tested positive for the Omicron variant were either vaccinated (43.2 percent) or boosted (23.2 percent). Only one-fourth were unvaccinated.
The president’s fact-free declaration that unvaccinated people are denying medical care to critically ill patients fits a broader pattern. CDC has made many dubious pronouncements on everything from boosters and cloth masks to natural immunity and the masking of preschoolers.
Omicron has dealt a serious – and perhaps fatal — blow to the administration’s credibility. Those who had placed their faith in it, like Koerth, are seeking out other sources for advice and finding themselves “confused, frustrated and angry.”
Our Divisive President
But there is another, more pernicious side to the president’s rhetoric: its insistence that his political opponents are responsible for the pandemic. This divisiveness and the scars created by such language will linger long after the pandemic has run its course.
While we can’t control the biological path of the pandemic, we can begin to address its cultural and political effects. Those who have called attention to the chasm between the government’s Covid prescriptions and the evidence behind them should seek to heal the divisiveness the president is inciting.
Too often, we dismiss the tens of millions of Americans who have scrupulously followed the government’s flawed guidance as engaging in theater, ritual, and virtue-signaling. We tend to minimize their genuine fear for themselves, their parents, and their children. They have made a not-irrational decision to rely on the government’s advice to keep them safe. Omicron has shaken their faith in that advice.
Both those long dubious of the government’s pandemic advice and those who have relied on it have more in common today than at any point since the pandemic’s earliest days. Both now harbor a healthy skepticism of the administration’s bromides.
We should acknowledge the fears and frustrations of Americans on the far side of the cultural divide, tone down our rhetoric about theater and virtue-signaling, and seek to bridge the cultural and political chasm that the president seems determined to widen and perpetuate.