Boston, MA: Riders disembarking from a commuter rail train at South Station after the mask mandate … [+] was lifted in Boston on April 21, 2022. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe via Getty Images
Earlier this month, the CDC issued, then reversed its mask-wearing guidance on public transportation to protect against Monkeypox because the agency said it “caused confusion.” Really? All throughout Covid-19, the government stumbled miserably when it came to pandemic health guidance and communication. This is just the latest sad chapter of the Biden Administration’s “solution in search of a problem” approach to protecting public health, and probably one reason why trust in government, and in this administration, in particular, is so low.
Why the government issued mask guidance with respect to Monkeypox in the first place is anyone’s guess, but it certainly doesn’t reflect what the health experts are telling us. Unlike Covid-19, we know a lot more about this virus, who it impacts and how it is spread. “Respiratory spread is not the predominant worry. It is contact and intimate contact in the current outbreak setting and population,” Dr. Jennifer McQuiston of the CDC told reporters recently. University of Sheffield professor of public health, Andrew Lee told Newsweek: “the respiratory droplet route is not the main route of transmission,” and that “compared to Covid-19, monkeypox probably isn’t that airborne and nowhere near as infectious.”
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration has made misstep after misstep here. Remember when Dr. Fauci told us masks were initially for first responders and healthcare workers? Remember when we were told we could take masks off in the summer of 2021 if you were vaccinated? And yet the vaccinated still got Covid. And if you weren’t wearing a mask in public, the assumption was you were evidently vaccinated.
The administration is now challenging a federal ruling which lifted mask mandates on public transportation, even after President Biden said in the wake of the ruling that the choice to wear masks was “up to them [Americans].” And with the Covid-19 new case rate in the United States remaining steady at approximately 100,000 per day, the virus doesn’t pose anything close to the threat it did during Omicron.
To be sure, the Covid pandemic is not over; but it is finally manageable. To wit, heart disease kills around 1900 Americans a day on average, cancer around 1650: Covid kills around 300 daily. Context matters — a principle neglected and forgotten time and time again by our public health officials. Despite the evidence, they seem obsessed with keeping pandemic fears alive long after the threat has diminished.
Justification for the masking of young children has by now been worn to the nub. A recent study published in The Lancet concludes there is “no significant relationship between mask mandates and case rates.” Inexplicably, Minnesota to this day requires masks for students on school buses but not in the classroom!
New research calls into question overall mask effectiveness. A study published earlier this year in the National Library of Medicine of Eastern and Western European countries concluded that: “countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low mask usage in the six-month period that encompassed the second European wave of Covid-19.”
When it comes to other health measures, it’s more of the same. For example, the administration retains a ghoulish obsession with vaccinating infants despite the fact that study after study tells us that Covid poses no significant risks to children. If ever there was an example of overtreatment, this is it. Excess and unnecessary care has always been a very costly part of U.S. healthcare spending. The last best estimate comes from a JAMA study which estimates that the cost of overtreatment, or low-value care, costs anywhere from $12.8 billion to $28.6 billion a year.
If you consider the botched guidance on such a simple protection measure as masks, what does that say about the government’s ability to show consistency with respect to other protocols? Again, it comes down to singing from the same song book and having consistent guidance that reflects the facts and the science as we know it at the moment. There is a growing sense that the government is looking for any excuse to make us put our masks back on – even inciting fear about a Monkeypox virus which at this time, impacts a small group of people.
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried wolf. If every urgent sounding guidance issued by public health authorities is riddled with error, Americans will cease heeding any of them. Epidemiologists assure us other pandemics are in the wings, and if so, what happens when the next one hits? The unlikelihood that we will be able to count on reliable information almost guarantees unnecessary suffering and death. As I’ve written extensively before, inconsistency and failure only serve to erode the public trust that will have real consequences — consequences that are entirely avoidable.
Consider this: flu and pneumonia are the 9th leading cause of death in the U.S. And reports suggest the flu season is lasting longer this year and hospitals are seeing spikes. And, yet there is virtual silence on masks with respect to the flu. We’ve got to do better, first by moving away from the fearmongering and inconsistency that has guided this administration’s approach to Covid. It’s not good for public health or the economy.
At the end of last year, I urged the Biden administration to pursue a new pandemic management playbook in 2022. One of those recommendations was to end disparate, knee-jerk protocols for simple health protection measures like masks. Six months later, it seems like we are back where we started – still playing a game of mask confusion.