Via Business Insider, it turns out there is one scientific expert who didn’t suddenly lose interest in containing a once-in-a-century pandemic the day after George Floyd was murdered.
And I do mean one.
The only thing we can do as public health officials to prevent spread among demonstrators is keep warning people to wear the masks, says a worried Fauci at the end of the short interview below. But that’s not true. Another thing public health officials can do is … not actively encourage people to hold mass gatherings.
This is completely, completely inexusable. COMPLETELY. This has to stop — who are the responsible public health official with the guts to at least give people a more nuanced understanding of the risks and benefits? pic.twitter.com/tMJISpjEto
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 5, 2020
Do you understand what it does to public trust in institutions when this sort of tale-wagging-the-dog logic prevails?
“Um, ‘male’ and ‘female’ don’t really mean anything — it’s SCIENCE.”
“Um, of course the risks of protesting are outweighed by the benefits — it’s SCIENCE.”
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 5, 2020
There’s a letter going around today signed by no fewer than 1,200 public health officials defending the need for these protests — and only these protests — notwithstanding the heightened risk they’re creating of a second wave of COVID. Just as the Times couldn’t admit that it changed its mind on Tom Cotton’s op-ed for nakedly political reasons, neither can these people flatly say that they’re subordinating public health to social justice. Social justice is itself a public health concern, they scold, never mind that we were warned just within the past few months that the risk from COVID-19 is so dire that we might see hundreds of thousands of deaths before the end of the year.
Staying at home, social distancing, and public masking are effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19. To the extent possible, we support the application of these public health best practices during demonstrations that call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy. However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States. We can show that support by facilitating safest protesting practices without detracting from demonstrators’ ability to gather and demand change. This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders. Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives. Protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.
It *is* a good cause. But keeping business open in order to avert an economic collapse, with all the human wreckage that might entail, was a good cause. Consoling family members in the hospital as they died of COVID was a good cause. Practicing one’s faith with a community of believers was a good cause. None of those causes was deemed sufficiently good to justify ignoring social distancing rules in March, April, and May.
This isn’t a public health issue. It’s ideological. The signatories of the letter believe ardently in the cause of racial justice so they’ve chosen to serve it via dereliction of their duties to protect public health. Fauci hasn’t. Simple as that.
The White House has already internalized the new message that it’s okay to ignore social distancing if you really, really want to do what it’s stopping you from doing, and has acted accordingly:
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 5, 2020
You would think supporters of the demonstrators would at least reach for a more fact-specific defense of their position. For the first time in nearly three months, New York City had no deaths from COVID-19 yesterday. We’re now under 1,000 deaths nationally on weekdays, administering more than 450,000 tests daily, and have reached a solid positivity rate of four percent. The warmer summer weather may be helping to limit transmission and Americans have quickly adopted mask-wearing as SOP. They *could* argue, not unpersuasively, that mass gatherings are somewhat safer now than they used to be, thus justifying the protests. But that logic has a problem — it would encourage people to start holding mass gatherings for purely sociable reasons as well. And our public health experts continue to oppose those. They’re not advising that restrictions be lifted. They just want them lifted for one specific cause near and dear to their hearts.
The credibility they’ve lost here will never return. From now on, to the extent it wasn’t already, people’s behavior will be guided almost exclusively by their personal assessment of local risk based on the latest data. Maybe they’ll still listen to Fauci, assuming anyone will put him on cable news anymore while he delivers this message.
Update: The Politico reporter who wrote yesterday’s story about scientists trading social distancing for social justice offers this chilling follow-up:
4. One other note on the response: I've heard, post-publication, from some doctors and Covid experts who say they feel boxed in: that they want to warn about public health risks of the new protests, but are worried they'll be perceived as attacking the movement or worse.
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) June 5, 2020
If another 100,000 of us have to die so that scientists can remain safely politically correct, that’s a sacrifice they’re willing to make.