When the public health experts are shaming others for insisting on precautions instead of shaming them for not insisting on them, that’s when you know the pandemic is over.
This tweet last night from Dr. Leana Wen is jarring even though it’s not as inconsistent with her earlier views as you may assume. It is, however, inconsistent with the view of the expert class broadly speaking that anything less than maximum safety is irresponsible, if not immoral.
For those who don’t agree that the vaccinated can return to pre-pandemic normal, I ask: What should we all do? Perpetual masking? Forever not dining out, avoiding large weddings & indoor gatherings, etc? Virtually everything has risk, and zero covid is not a viable strategy.
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) March 23, 2022
I read the replies to her tweet assuming there’d be a parade of righties dunking on her for having been a hard-ass about restrictions for so long. But no, turns out it’s mostly “forever pandemic” people dunking on her for believing that the masks should ever come off.
So @DrLeanaWen says we have no responsibility to our fellow Americans. The sick, immunocompromised, the disabled and unvaccinated should take precautions but the rest of us owe them nothing. This is a reading from the gospel of selfishness. God save our souls. https://t.co/5NDHk9rq7g
— Gregg Gonsalves (@gregggonsalves) March 22, 2022
Hi Dr Wen, come walk with me. You can help hold me up when waves of vertigo hit. https://t.co/zSoo5K0L2f
— grover 💙 (@fuzzyblumonster) March 23, 2022
“zero covid is not a viable strategy”
This just is not true, so don’t state it as if it’s an axiom. It will take some effort, education and investment, but of course it’s doable. Why have we become so nihilistic? We are the species that achieves.👇https://t.co/hlQIDniXF2
— Dr David Berger, aBsuRdiSTe cROnickLeR (@YouAreLobbyLud) March 23, 2022
The problem is that as time goes on we are finding concerning post-COVID complications. We don’t understand their prevalence well yet, or their underlying mechanisms. We don’t have a grip on COVID. Continuing to *encourage* mass infection/reinfection in this situation is reckless
— Dr. Marianne Inglis🪟🌬🍃🇫🇷🇬🇧🇦🇺 (@Amalgamquietude) March 23, 2022
How about this: continue to mask until:
-we have adequate ventilation and filtration of indoor air
-we have effective treatments for acute and long Covid
-everyone has access to said treatments and mitigations.
Until then: #N95sForAll
— Denise Dewald, MD 🗽 (@denise_dewald) March 23, 2022
Mask until we have “adequate ventilation” … where? Everywhere?
On and on they go. Click and scroll to see for yourself.
Wen is right that “zero COVID” isn’t a viable strategy, as South Korea has spent the last few weeks demonstrating. What is viable in an age when vaccines are widely available is taking precautions to contain the virus until a large majority of the population has immunity, which will limit the amount of severe illness once restrictions are finally lifted. That’s what the South Koreans did. Their reward has been a relatively modest death toll at a moment when the number of daily cases they’re seeing is mind-boggling.
Vaccination has been Wen’s obsession too. It’s true that she’s been willing to slap harsh restrictions on Americans in the past…
.@DrLeanaWen: “There are privileges associated with being an American. That if you wish to have these privileges, you need to get vaccinated. Travel, and having the right to travel in our state, it’s not a constitutional right as far as I know to board a plane." pic.twitter.com/eyhEVooV20
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 10, 2021
…but typically with the caveat that those restrictions should target the unvaccinated specifically in order to pressure them to get their shots. When it comes to the vaccinated, she’s been arguing for more than a year that the CDC should lighten up and encourage those with immunity to socialize:
My takeaway from new @CDCgov guidance: It's good that CDC provided clarity on small-group visits. However, it's far too cautious & is missing a major opportunity to tie vaccination status with reopening policies. (This is what I'd said should be there, with @PamelaBrownCNN) pic.twitter.com/nYtL5Z6NEd
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) March 8, 2021
That’s been her bright line all along. Vaccinated? Fine, go have fun. Enjoy New Year’s Eve in Times Square (but consider wearing a quality mask). Unvaccinated? Then get used to whatever restrictions are imposed on you. Early last month, after Omicron had instilled immunity in tens of millions, she recommended dropping most restrictions on everyone — but again drew a distinction between the vaxxed and unvaxxed. Communities with high transmission, she wrote, might reasonably require two of these three: Vaccination, testing, masking. Communities with low transmission might require only one.
Two days ago, she sized up the likelihood of a new surge in the U.S. driven by Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant and urged the COVID super-hawks not to freak out:
On a population level, the combination of recovery from omicron and vaccination means that the United States has high rates of immunity against BA.2. The influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that as many as 80 percent of Americans have some immunity that will protect them against a new omicron wave. This may be enough to successfully decouple infection from hospitalization such that a rise in cases does not overwhelm hospitals.
On an individual level, I do not think most Americans need to change their behavior because of a potential BA.2 surge. An estimated 45 percent already contracted omicron and, for the time being, are unlikely to be reinfected. Those who are vaccinated and boosted remain well-protected from severe illness. Even as cases increase, I think it is reasonable for most people to enjoy their newfound normalcy, and I certainly do not believe restrictions should be reimposed as long as hospitals are not reaching capacity.
Wen’s always been willing to cut the vaccinated lots of extra slack on precautions. What she’s being reminded of today is that there’s a biggggg contingent of liberals that isn’t. Doesn’t matter how much population immunity America has, doesn’t matter how much milder Omicron may be relative to Delta. In their eyes, if you’re not masking up and social distancing to protect the immunocompromised or the three-year-olds who can’t get vaccinated yet (but are almost certainly not going to get severely ill even if they’re infected), you’ve betrayed the cause of public health. So long as someone, somewhere is vulnerable to severe illness, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to be conscientious and take maximum precautions to limit transmission.
Never mind that that ethic didn’t apply pre-pandemic even though the vulnerable were susceptible to severe illness from other infectious diseases at the time.
I’ll leave you with one more soundbite from Wen. I’m not sure where this logic was when she was twisting the arms of the unvaccinated in every way she could think of.
Exactly. Public health has to meet people where they are. The majority will not tolerate ongoing government covid mandates. According to CDC’s new guidelines, 98% of the US are low risk enough that masking isn’t required. Individuals can, of course, choose to mask if they wish. https://t.co/2nJ4N1agQf
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) March 23, 2022