Earlier this month, the CDC released, then rescinded its guidance on wearing masks on public transportation to protect against Monkeypox because the agency said it was “confusing.” Oh good? Throughout Covid-19, the government has stumbled miserably when it comes to pandemic health advice and communication. This is just the latest sad chapter in the Biden administration’s “solution in search of a problem” approach to protecting public health, and likely one of the reasons that trust in government, and in this administration, in particular, is so weak.
Why the government issued mask guidelines regarding Monkeypox in the first place is anyone’s guess, but it certainly doesn’t reflect what health experts are telling us. Unlike Covid-19, we know much more about this virus, who it affects and how it spreads. “Respiratory spread is not the overriding concern. It is contact and intimate contact in the current context and population of the epidemic,” Dr. Jennifer McQuiston of the CDC recently told reporters. Andrew Lee, a professor of public health at the University of Sheffield, told Newsweek: “The respiratory droplet route is not the main route of transmission” and that “compared to Covid-19, monkeypox is not probably not that airborne and not nearly as infectious.”
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration has been making missteps here. Remember when Dr. Fauci told us masks were originally intended for first responders and healthcare workers? Remember when we were told we could take the masks off in the summer of 2021 if you were vaccinated? And yet the vaccinated still had the Covid. And if you didn’t wear a mask in public, it was assumed that you were obviously vaccinated.
The administration is now challenging a federal decision that lifted mask mandates on public transportation, even after President Biden said following the decision that the choice to wear masks was “up to them.” [Americans].” And with the rate of new Covid-19 cases in the United States remaining steady at around 100,000 a day, the virus poses nothing close to the threat it made during Omicron.
Of course, the Covid pandemic is not over; but it is ultimately manageable. Namely, heart disease kills about 1,900 Americans a day on average, cancer about 1,650: Covid kills about 300 a day. Context matters – a principle overlooked and forgotten time and time again by our public health officials. Despite the evidence, they seem obsessed with sustaining pandemic fears long after the threat has subsided.
The rationale for masking young children is now cut to the chase. A recent study published in The Lancet concludes that there is “no significant relationship between mask mandates and case rates”. Inexplicably, Minnesota to this day requires masks for students on school buses but not in the classroom!
New research calls into question the overall effectiveness of masks. A study published earlier this year in the National Library of Medicine for Eastern and Western European Countries concluded that: “countries with high levels of mask compliance did not perform better than those with low use of the mask during the six-month period that encompassed Europe’s second wave of Covid-19.
For the other health measures, it’s a bit the same thing. For example, the administration retains a macabre obsession with infant vaccinations despite the fact that study after study tells us that Covid poses no significant risk to children. If there was ever an example of overprocessing, this is it. Excessive and unnecessary care has always been a very costly part of healthcare spending in the United States. The latest best estimate comes from a JAMA study that estimates the cost of overtreatment, or low value care, to cost between $12.8 billion and $28.6 billion per year.
If you consider sloppy guidance on such a simple protective measure as masks, what does that say about the government’s ability to be consistent with other protocols? Again, it’s about singing from the same songbook and having consistent advice that reflects the facts and science as we know it now. There is a growing feeling that the government is looking for any excuse to get us to put our masks back on – even instigating fear of a Monkeypox virus which is currently affecting a small group of people.
Everyone knows the story of the boy who cried wolf. If all of the urgent guidelines issued by public health authorities are riddled with errors, Americans will stop heeding them. Epidemiologists assure us that other pandemics are in the making, and if so, what happens when the next one hits? The unlikelihood that we can rely on reliable information almost guarantees unnecessary suffering and death. As I have written extensively before, inconsistency and failure only serve to erode public trust, which will have real consequences – entirely avoidable consequences.
Consider this: Influenza and pneumonia are the 9th leading cause of death in the United States. And reports suggest the flu season is lasting longer this year and hospitals are experiencing spikes. And yet, there is near-silence on masks in relation to the flu. We must do better, first by moving away from the alarmism and inconsistency that have guided this administration’s approach to Covid. It’s not good for public health or the economy.
Late last year, I urged the Biden administration to pursue a new pandemic management playbook in 2022. One of those recommendations was to end disparate, knee-jerk protocols for simple measures of health protection such as masks. Six months later, it looks like we’re back to where we started – still playing a game of mask confusion.