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Fauci: I Don't Think We'll Ever Stop Requiring Masks on Planes

Screenshot via ABC

What the hell is this guy doing?  His critics accuse him of being a megalomaniac, drunk on his own power and influence, rooting for a forever pandemic to remain relevant and ubiquitous.  Even if you think that's uncharitable and unfair, it's pretty jarring to see him breezily reject the notion that we'll get back to a place where we don't have to wear masks on airplanes.  Ever?  He doesn't use that word, but the question was pretty open-ended, and his reaction was a pretty flat 'no:'


How on earth does he not say something like, "yes of course, we will get back to a point where life looks and feels totally normal once the pandemic is over, but while COVID is still spreading so widely, this is a mitigation step that should remain in place"?  We can debate whether masking is effective in various scenarios (airplanes is something of a question proposition), and it would be far better if we could have those discussions rooted in good data versus garbage science -- like, well, this:

The agency has argued for [school masking policies] amid an atmosphere of persistent backlash and skepticism, but on September 26, its director, Rochelle Walensky, marched out a stunning new statistic: Speaking as a guest on CBS’s Face the Nation, she cited a study published two days earlier, which looked at data from about 1,000 public schools in Arizona. The ones that didn’t have mask mandates, she said, were 3.5 times as likely to experience COVID outbreaks as the ones that did. This estimated effect of mask requirements—far bigger than others in the research literature—would become a crucial talking point in the weeks to come...But the Arizona study at the center of the CDC’s back-to-school blitz turns out to have been profoundly misleading. “You can’t learn anything about the effects of school mask mandates from this study,” Jonathan Ketcham, a public-health economist at Arizona State University, told me. His view echoed the assessment of eight other experts who reviewed the research, and with whom I spoke for this article. Masks may well help prevent the spread of COVID, some of these experts told me, and there may well be contexts in which they should be required in schools. But the data being touted by the CDC—which showed a dramatic more-than-tripling of risk for unmasked students—ought to be excluded from this debate. The Arizona study’s lead authors stand by their work, and so does the CDC. But the critics were forthright in their harsh assessments. Noah Haber, an interdisciplinary scientist and a co-author of a systematic review of COVID-19 mitigation policies, called the research “so unreliable that it probably should not have been entered into the public discourse.”

Click through for a takedown of this shoddy study, including multiple critiques of its methodology and conclusion. One example: "The trouble begins with the opening lines of the paper, where the authors say they evaluated the association between school mask policies and school-associated COVID-19 outbreaks “during July 15–August 31, 2021.” After reviewing school calendars and speaking with several school administrators in Maricopa and Pima Counties, I found that only a small proportion of the schools in the study were open at any point during July. Some didn’t begin class until August 10; others were open from July 19 or July 21. That means students in the latter group of schools had twice as much time—six weeks instead of three weeks—in which to develop a COVID outbreak." There are also problems with how the study defined an "outbreak."

Back to Fauci.  I expect that he will "clarify" at some point that he meant to say we won't unmask on planes during the pandemic, not that the restrictions will be in place forever.  But attainable off-ramps are essential to public health messaging, and he's terrible at it.  Remember, he's admitted that he told a "noble lie" about the off-ramp of vaccine-achieved herd immunity, shifting his public analysis based on his perceptions of public opinion, as opposed to science. It would be a harmful public relations move to let this answer stand, and because we know he's very concerned about optics, I suspect he'll clean up after it.  But he's also saying things like this:


As I noted on Twitter, this is a completely unrealistic way to ask people to live, especially at this stage of the pandemic.  If I'd followed this guidance, I would have skipped the wedding of two good friends this weekend, one of whom FaceTime'd into my own wedding while serving in Afghanistan.  I had two shots of Moderna, plus hybrid/natural immunity acquired during my August breakthrough case (vaccines remain extremely effective against hospitalization and death).  I experienced a known COVID exposure on Tuesday of last week, from a then-asymptomatic friend.  Despite my immunity and lack of any symptoms, I notified the couple, then tested before the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, Friday and Saturday, respectively.  Negative.  But because I did not know the vaccination status of every guest at this wedding, Fauci said this was a gathering that I should have avoided.  To which I answered, via my own decisions: No.  I made responsible calculations, based on data and known risk.  My choices did not entail zero risk, but that's how life works.  I resent the notion that I did the wrong thing. I did the right thing, in my view, and I'd do it again.

Finally, as we prepare for President Biden's upcoming COVID speech (will it be a "stark warning," or a shift to more realistic expectations and priorities?), I'll leave you with this eminent doctor reacting to the revelation that his views on COVID were viewed as a threat that needed to be crushed by Fauci et al:


Also, this is a fair and tough question:

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