Maybe this explains why the CDC is so hypercautious with its COVID guidance

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Old theory: The CDC’s institutional culture is risk-averse because government bureaucrats prioritize CYA, which leads them to err on the side of extreme caution in telling citizens what it’s safe to do.

New theory: The entire epidemiological profession is risk-averse because, well, they spend all their time thinking about dangerous infectious diseases and that’s bound to influence their own behavior.

The Times surveyed more than 700 epidemiologists to ask whether they’ve changed their daily activities lately as the pandemic has progressed and vaccinations have ramped up. Importantly, they didn’t distinguish epidemiologists who’ve already been vaccinated from those who haven’t, a detail that would have been useful in assessing these results. One person who got the survey says it went out in late April and asked about behavior over the past month, before some participants would have been eligible to get immunized in their home states. Because the numbers here reflect the attitudes of a group that includes unvaccinated members, we should expect them to reflect more caution than we would a group consisting entirely of vaccinated people.

But even so, some of these results are hard to justify in terms of rational risk assessment:

Nearly 20 percent of professional epidemiologists were still taking precautions with mail as of April even though it’s been known for months that the virus hardly ever transmits on surfaces.

And more than half of epidemiologists still refused to be within six feet of someone unmasked outdoors even though, according to a Times report yesterday, outdoor transmission rates are somewhere on the order of one percent or even 0.1 percent. The survey question doesn’t even specify a duration for the “interaction.” Presumably the survey participants mean they wouldn’t converse with someone else — outdoors — for even a few seconds within six feet.

Even though the six-foot rule is itself nonsense.

I mean, come on:

Epidemiologists overwhelmingly want even the vaccinated to mask up *outdoors* when in large crowds, and fully a quarter advise masking up when within six feet of anyone.

Maybe this is why the CDC is what it is. It would also explain why Rochelle Walensky is holding her 16-year-old back from summer camp even though he’s at little risk of serious illness himself and virtually all adults who want to be vaccinated have now had the opportunity, putting them at little risk of being infected by her son.

Scientists are just overly cautious, sometimes absurdly so, by nature.

There’s a fun story on the other side of the scientific spectrum today, meanwhile. Just as hypercautious epidemiologists are gradually becoming more relaxed about socializing, hyperrelaxed COVID truthers are gradually becoming more cautious. They’ve suddenly woken up to the risk of infection and debilitating illness — but not from the virus. From the vaccines, or so the conspiracy theorists are telling them:

The conspiracy—which comes in several shapes and sizes—more or less says the vaccinated will “shed” certain proteins onto the unvaccinated who will then suffer adverse effects. The main worry is the “shedding” will cause irregular menstruation, infertility, and miscarriages. The entirely baseless idea is a key cog in a larger conspiracy that COVID-19 was a ploy to depopulate the world, and the vaccine is what will cull the masses.

Sherri Tenpenny, an anti-vaxxer who was found to be key in spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories, suggested on a recent anti-vax livestream that you may have to “stay away from somebody who’s had these shots…forever.”…

“I am going to be watching these vaccine shedding stories like a hawk,” wrote another man on Twitter. “Is my family going to need to wear masks to protect ourselves from the vaccinated?”

I’m half-convinced that this is a brilliant devious disinformation plot by the government to convince anti-vaxxers to take the sort of precautions they should have been taking all along. Tell ’em they’re at risk of dying from COVID and they’ll tune you out. Tell ’em that they’re at risk of some mysterious vaccine-borne malady that just so happens to be contagious and susceptible to the same non-pharmaceutical interventions that the virus is and suddenly they’re masking up. Whatever floats their boat to get them to behave responsibly is fine by me. Maybe someone can convince Tucker Carlson to do a PSA warning his viewers to keep six feet away from strangers at all times to shield themselves from “protein shedding” or whatever.