I told you so: CDC finally changes summer camp guidance for kids after critical column by NYT writer

AP Photo/LM Otero

I really did tell you so — two days ago, in this post. That was the day NYT columnist David Leonhardt published a new piece challenging the CDC’s guesstimate that up to 10 percent of all COVID transmissions happen outdoors. Leonhardt interviewed one of the authors of the analysis on which that estimate was based, asking her if it was accurate, and she told him, uh, no. *One* study that she looked at suggested that as many as 10 percent of transmissions could be occurring outside but the great mass of evidence points to a rate far, far lower. Probably no more than one percent, possibly far less than that.

Leonhardt shamed the CDC, in other words, and not for the first time. In my post I noticed the strange tendency over the past few months for bad CDC guidance to change within a few days after he had called them out in the liberal intelligentsia’s favorite newspaper. The pattern was so unmistakable that I made a prediction:

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.

Forty-eight hours later, here we are:

It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad. Evidently America’s foremost scientific agency needs Leonhardt to prepare the political ground for them before announcing new guidance by nudging liberals to relax their hypercautious expectations a bit. And the expectations for summer camp really were hypercautious. Even by CDC standards, wanting kids aged two and over to mask up outdoors, in the heat, and to social distance as much as possible while at camp with friends was a ludicrous, borderline punitive expectation.

Thank goodness Leonhardt intervened when he did or else our science bureaucracy might have insisted on masking toddlers during games of tag after all. Here’s the new guidance:

About 2.5 million adolescents in that younger age group (12-15) have already had one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, team lead for CDC’s Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, which wrote the guidance.

“We have this whole group of adolescents who by mid- to late summer can be fully vaccinated. … Camps are at a point where they can offer an opportunity to have a camp setting where everyone is fully vaccinated,” Sauber-Schatz said, adding that such a scenario can enable a “pre-pandemic camp experience” with neither masking nor physical distancing.

Of course, many camps serve younger children who cannot yet be vaccinated, and for those settings, the guidance became somewhat more complex. At camps where not everyone is vaccinated, the guidance says, vaccinated people do not need masks. But unvaccinated people are “strongly encouraged” — though not obligated — to wear masks indoors, and they should wear masks outdoors in crowds or when close to others for prolonged periods.

In other words, vaccinated teens can go nuts and drop all rules whereas unvaccinated younger kids are okay to skip masks outdoors unless they’re all huddled together in a crowd and to skip them indoors at their own risk. (Which isn’t much.) Much more sensible. But there’s one thing I still don’t understand. Watch this short clip from May 11, when Walensky testified about how much her 16-year-old son looks forward to camp every year — and how he wouldn’t be going this summer.

On the day before she made that statement, the FDA approved Pfizer’s vaccine for ages 12 to 15. It had already been approved for 16-year-olds, which means her son had presumably already been eligible for the shot for awhile. (Unless he turned 16 very recently.) So why was she talking doom-and-gloom about not sending him to camp when (a) he was either already able to be immunized or would be soon and (b) just 17 days later her agency would end up dropping all summer camp restrictions for vaccinated teens? “It’s just disturbing that they do such a 180 in [a few] weeks, which I think undermines the trust that people have in public health recommendations,” said the editor of JAMA Pediatrics to WaPo. “To me, it reiterates what has been disturbing to me about this pandemic from the beginning, which is that kids have been an afterthought.”

Plus, as I noted at the time, the comparison Walensky gave during her testimony between the number of cases in the U.S. today and the number of cases a year ago was misleading. There’s much more testing now than there was then, meaning that the true number of infections last year was likely way higher than the number of confirmed cases. It’d be understandable for a layman like you or me to make that error but for her to make it seems like a deliberate attempt to mislead.

I posted this earlier but will re-up it here since Scott Gottlieb is another public commentator like Leonhardt whose pronouncements are nudging the CDC towards sanity by shifting the public’s expectations. Gottlieb criticized the guidance requiring masks on kids outdoors at camp this morning. A few hours later, that guidance is no longer operative. Go figure.

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