I predict this will end up as another embarrassing case of the feds belatedly changing their guidance after the liberal consensus, particularly as expressed by the NYT’s David Leonhardt, has shamed them into it.
Leonhardt has spent the last month drilling down on what the risk is of contracting COVID outdoors and whether the CDC’s mask guidance can possibly be justified in light of that risk. On April 22 he published a column asking “Are Masks Necessary Outdoors?” Four days later the White House announced that new guidance on mask-wearing outdoors was coming soon from the CDC. A few weeks later Leonhardt followed up with a column wondering where the CDC had gotten the idea that up to 10 percent of all transmissions have happened outdoors. Scientists he spoke with claimed outdoor transmission was probably responsible for no more than one percent of COVID cases, and probably far less.
As it happened, CDC chief Rochelle Walensky testified before the Senate the day that column ran and was asked about Leonhardt’s conclusions. Where’d the CDC’s 10 percent figure come from? Well, she said, it came from a study of various other studies published last November in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Watch:
CDC Director Walensky pushes back on Susan Collins's attacks on CDC guidance pic.twitter.com/38pFyNWyS2
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2021
She gave that emotional answer at the end about why it’s too risky for her son to attend camp this year literally the day before she told America’s 100 million vaccinated people that they could tear off their masks and get back to normal. Huh.
Anyway, Leonhardt tracked down one of the authors of the JID study Walensky cited in her testimony for his new column today. Is it really true that up to 10 percent of infections happen outdoors, he asked? It’s an important question because, although the CDC has encouraged the vaccinated to unmask outdoors, unvaccinated adults and kids are still being advised to mask up while in close contact with strangers. In fact, the CDC’s bizarrely strict guidance for summer camps currently calls for kids as young as two to mask up outdoors, for kids to maintain six feet of distance wherever possible and to avoid sharing objects, on and on, even amid the summer heat and the exertion of physical activity. If there’s a 10 percent risk of infection outdoors, arguably all of that is justified. But is there?
No, the study’s author, Nooshin Razani, told Leonhardt:
When Razani and her co-authors used the phrase “less than 10 percent” in the paper, they did not consider it to be an estimate, she told me. “We were very clear we were not making a summary number,” she said.
It was instead a literal description of the other research. Most studies in the review found the share to be below 1 percent. But there was one study that somebody might interpret as suggesting the share of Covid transmission occurring outdoors was close to 10 percent. (In truth, many of those cases involved Singapore construction workers who probably transmitted it in enclosed spaces.)
The actual share occurring outdoors is “probably substantially less than 1 percent,” Razani told me. “The outdoors is an amazing resource,” she added. “What we really should be focused on is how to transition more activities to be outdoors.”
Razani described her study as a “systematic review” of existing studies, not a “meta-analysis” in which the authors might be expected to arrive at a precise estimate of transmission rates themselves. Essentially, she just went through the existing data and noted that one study out there points to an outdoor transmission rate as high as 10 percent and she felt duty-bound to include it for reasons of completeness. But all other studies that were reviewed point to a rate much, much lower.
If Razani and Leonhardt are capable of inferring from that data that outdoor transmission is likely exceedingly rare and the “10 percent” study is an extreme outlier, why aren’t Walensky and the CDC? Why treat the 10 percent study as so probable that it should drive the guidance that’ll govern millions of American kids this summer, whom we already know are at low risk of serious illness even if they end up infected?
It’s one of the most absurd examples of hypercautious ass-covering by the agency since the start of the pandemic.
But there’s good news. One is that even jurisdictions as liberal as New York, run by a moron like Andrew Cuomo, have recognized that the CDC camp guidance is too onerous and have moved to relax it before the agency has:
The updated guidelines now encourage unvaccinated children, instead of requiring, to wear face-covering when they are outdoors.
“We are thrilled with this updated guidance. Our NY camps ran successfully last summer without the use of face coverings outdoors, resulting in a safe and healthy summer,” Susie Lupert, Executive Director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ said in a news release. “Children need camp this year more than ever before and our NY camps are ready to welcome them back for a great summer.”
The other good news is that, like I said up top, the feds seem to follow the liberal commentariat on COVID restrictions as much as they follow “the science.” Now that Leonhardt has sent up the bat signal that “the science” doesn’t support masking kids (or anyone else) outdoors, expect Walensky and the White House to fall in line soon. Stay tuned.