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Doctor Goes Off on New CDC Mask Guidance: 'Not Justifiable Whatsoever,' Will 'Backfire Big'

On my nationally-syndicated radio show this week, Dr. Manny Alvarez reacted to the CDC's new COVID masking guidance -- including recommending indoor mask-wearing among many vaccinated Americans, as well as for all K-12 children in school -- without mincing words.  He said he believes the new policy is driven by politics, not science, and will "backfire big" on both the Biden administration and the CDC.  He also fears that the confusing messaging will undermine confidence in the vaccines, especially within hesitant populations.  Listen here, with a few choice excerpts transcribed below:


“The messages are incredibly mixed. You know, the whole mandate of a mask for vaccinated people is, you know, really not justifiable whatsoever. You know, the facts are the facts. Vaccinated people are very well protected from hospital hospitalization, severe disease. And, you know, it allows them to feel free, you know, [this feels like] like PTSD all over again...You're going to get a schizophrenic response....So this is just very, very poor management of how to deal with this problem. I think that this is going to backfire big on the president and it’s going to backfire big on the CDC all over again, as it did at the beginning of this whole fiasco. And, you know, I think the message should be very clear. Continue with the advocacy of vaccination, find ways to convince people in a normal way, find, you know, people you know, people that have gotten vaccinated and feel very good about it and continue with that positive education, positive education. The American people are very smart and they will make the right choice.” 

Alvarez also criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, rebuked the idea of asking vaccinated people to mask up, and blasted the recommended policy of mask requirements for children in classrooms: 

"I respect him as a scientist, but I don't respect his public policies anymore...For the 70 percent that are now protected [by vaccines], let things continue to move on...This is not science. These are political and social mandates...don't punish the children."

And to his point about seeking to persuade vaccine skeptics with "positive education," Alvarez reiterated his strong endorsement of the vaccines' efficacy and safety: "This is one of the most effective vaccines with the fewest side effects that I think the history of science has ever created," he said.  Meanwhile, perhaps the single most powerful journalist in America in terms of influencing COVID policy is the New York Times' David Leonhardt.  He is also rapping the CDC over its decision, noting its practical incoherence, as well as the poor public messaging supporting it:


The C.D.C. has both a polarization problem and a communication problem. Let’s start with the polarization problem: The parts of the country that would benefit most from a new crackdown on Covid-19 — including more frequent mask wearing — are also the places least likely to follow C.D.C. guidance. Many of these communities have been rejecting the advice of medical experts for months, on both masks and vaccines. Another C.D.C. announcement won’t change that...Breakthrough infections among the vaccinated appear to be only a modest reason that the number of new cases has been rising, as I explained in Monday’s newsletter. When vaccinated people do get the virus, they are less likely to pass it on to others — and much less likely to get very sick...Who, then, is most likely to listen to the C.D.C.’s new request that vaccinated people wear masks indoors? People who live in the places where it will do the least good. These tend to be politically liberal, highly vaccinated communities where people have been willing to wear masks even more often than the scientific evidence calls for (outdoors, for example).

Clear messaging is one of the most powerful tools that public health officials have, but only when they use it. And the C.D.C. and the Biden administration did not do so yesterday. They failed to convey whether they wanted the entire country to begin changing its behavior — or whether they were focusing on only some regions, which happen to be the very places that require special attention to reach...Some experts also said that Americans, frustrated by the long pandemic, need to hear a clear plan for what will allow the masks to come off. “If we want to continue to ask people to step up,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist, told The Times, “we need to give them a vision of what we’re working toward.”


I offered a variation of his first point yesterday:

As for the exit strategy point, many Americans fear that there isn't one, and that open-ended control over their lives is the point -- whether explicit or subconscious on the part of the Powers That Be.  The CDC's latest round of decisions reinforces this cynical view, and does to needlessly.  According to the CDC itself, a new study shows that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 82 percent effective against symptomatic COVID illness after a single shot, jumping to 94 percent efficacy after both shots.  Effectiveness against severe cases, hospitalizations, and death are all even higher -- well over 99 percent.  That is on top of most people's overwhelming likelihood of naturally surviving a bout of COVID.  As Leonhardt conveys in his new piece, vaccinated people are much less likely to get infected in the first place, and are also significantly less likely to transmit the virus to others, even if they do experience a relatively rare breakthrough infection (almost always mild or asymptomatic for the vaccinated).  And how's this for a quote?

Telling jabbed people to wear masks is an unscientific punishment that disincentives vaccination and casts pointless and inaccurate doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines. The goal has never been, and cannot be, total eradication of COVID, which looks like it will be an endemic illness in our society indefinitely.  Treating that as the goal, as opposed to a manageable and non-crippling challenge like the flu, feeds into the perception that there is no exit strategy, and no meaningful limiting principle on the various "temporary" measures being pushed.  Unvaccinated adults are making choices for themselves, and vaccinated people shouldn't be held hostage by others' decisions.  And the recommendations for children are just mind-boggling.  We know for a fact that kids are not negatively impacted by COVID, thank goodness.  There are tragic and extremely rare exceptions, of course, but the statistics should speak for themselves:


The US stats come from the CDC itself.  More under-18's in America have died from pneumonia and drowning than from Coronavirus over the course of the pandemic.  And the 337 number is likely an exaggeration, based on the British example of drilling down and assessing each child death.  This phenomenon is so vanishingly rare that even the mandate-heavy UK government correctly determined that schools should be open, and masks should not be required among students.  Here's the CDC director earlier today admitting that Delta isn't more dangerous to children than 'regular' COVID, which is...not very dangerous to children at all:  

Assessing all of that information and announcing that kids should wear masks in school anyway is ludicrous, and it undermines credibility.  Again.  The CDC has done this to itself repeatedly during the pandemic, with its new director stepping in it over and over again.  The agency is calling Washington, DC an elevated risk area, triggering the new mask recommendations, even though DC is 13th out of 51 states and jurisdictions on vaccination rates.  It all feels capricious and never-ending, even though an existing end may already be in sight.  The Delta wave in the UK is collapsing, with some American experts anticipating that we are just a few weeks behind them, on a similar trajectory.  The CDC has now smashed the "break in case of emergency" glass, without strong, or even solid, justification.  Many people will ignore the guidance, with the likeliest adherents being people and communities who don't need it.  And the CDC's director is partially justifying the move by citing totally hypothetical scare-scenarios from the future:


Notice that the breakthrough transmission threat is "rare," by her own admission.  Also, sure, there might be future variants that are more resistant to the vaccines.  But there might not.  And even if that happens, the vaccines may still offer decent protection -- and if not, experts have been saying for months that the existing vaccines can be easily tweaked to cover new strains.  Hand-wringing about potential challenges that may never materialize is shockingly reckless, in this context in particular.  It erodes faith in the current vaccines for absolutely no reason, while raising an argument that could literally be used to rationalize constant, open-ended mandates and restrictions, forever.  This is what many of the skeptics already fear.  And guess what?  By backsliding into vaccinated masking for no good reason now, any future recommendations on this front -- even in response to a more serious (hypothetical) threat that may warrant mitigation measures -- will be greeted with less seriousness and compliance because massive swaths of the country no longer trust the CDC on any of this.  Congratulations, team "science."  I'll leave you with this, which may offer a hint about the country's appetite for the new guidance:


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