WHO's on last: Pay no attention to report of "very rare" asymptomatic COVID-19 spread from, er ... us

Old and busted: Defund the World Health Organization over its ties to China! New hotness: Defund WHO because they’re incompetent nincompoops. A day after stunning the world and raising hopes by claiming asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 might be “very rare,” WHO walked it back today, leaving everyone even more confused about what the agency’s processes might be:


Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who made the original comment at a W.H.O. briefing on Monday, said that it was based on just two or three studies and that it was a “misunderstanding” to say asymptomatic transmission is rare globally.

“I was just responding to a question, I wasn’t stating a policy of W.H.O. or anything like that,” she said.

Dr. Van Kerkhove said that the estimates of transmission from people without symptoms come primarily from models, which may not provide an accurate representation. “That’s a big open question, and that remains an open question,” she said.

If you missed it yesterday, read Allahpundit’s post on the announcement yesterday, which had scientists scratching their heads. It contradicted findings released just a few days earlier that showed a high risk for exponential transmission still remained. If WHO’s announcement yesterday was correct, then social-distancing protocols could be simplified and a lot of businesses fully reopened.


The epidemiologist appears not to have thought much about those implications and the need for accuracy when answering questions. Today’s walkback returns us to the status quo ante, albeit with a significant reduction in trust and credibility. Rather than being “very rare,” van Kerkhove suggested that 40% of cases might have gotten transmitted through asymptomatic carriers. That, however, hasn’t been entirely settled yet either:

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said Tuesday that asymptomatic spread is a “really complex question” and much is still unknown.

“I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know,” she said on a live Q&A streamed across multiple social media platforms. “And in that, I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. I was referring to a small subset of studies.”

Studies show that about 16% of the population may be asymptomatic, she said. Some models developed by other scientists suggest as much as 40% of global transmission may be due to asymptomatic individuals, she said, clarifying her comments.

“We don’t actually have that answer yet,” she said.


Then why did they act as if they did? Andy Slavitt, a former Obama administration public health advisor, wonders about that too. From now own, Slavitt says, the proper treatment for WHO’s statements will be the Ronald Reagan proviso of trust but verify. Minus the trust part, natch:

Actually, that’s similar to how humans understand “defund” as “remove all funds,” too. If one can’t trust WHO to grasp what “very rare” means and the impact of using that term in public pronouncements, how are we supposed to trust anything they say? Short answer is … we can’t:

So basically, we’re at status quo ante and WHO can’t offer any disciplined insight into the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps we should put our money into a multilateral group that can. In the meantime, maybe we should take The Who’s advice and not get fooled again …


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