Please stop dithering, CDC and everyone


It’s driving me nuts. We are in a serious pandemic, and authorities everywhere are acting as if the best strategy is to pretend we’re already back to normal, full speed ahead, don’t deviate from the pretense that everything is just dandy. Yet…

The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”

Public schools are opening in a few weeks, as is my university. No one is acknowledging that the war has changed. Instead, we’re all planning to march right into the maw of the pandemic.

My prediction: they’re all going to be frantically backpedaling by October. I fully expect my school to shut down in-person classes by the middle of the semester.

I could be wrong, and I would be very happy if I were — we could have a gentle, delightful Fall with brightly colored leaves and soft snows and a world that embraces love and peace, and all the homeless would be given homes, and all the sick cared for, the QAnoners could all wake and look at each other and say “What are we doing?” and go home to their families, and peace could reign across all the lands. Sure. It could happen. But only if we struggle to make it all happen. And that’s what I’m not seeing, a will to change and do what needs to be done.

The CDC isn’t helping, either. They keep dithering. Recommendations change at the first breeze of new data, and change back a few weeks later. There is a difference between being responsive to new information, and being too quick to accept new suggestions in the face of uncertainty; it’s also important to build the public trust with consistent messages.

The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.

It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.

Right. So the appropriate message from the very beginning should have been conservative, assuming the worst and establishing a consistent policy. I want to hear the words, “It wasn’t as bad as we feared, now that we’ve got solid evidence from three months of hard science we can think about easing some restrictions,” rather than “Oh, I guess we shouldn’t have told everyone to have orgies, you’ve all got three months to live.”

Be decisive for a change. I wrote to my university president urging her to take a stronger stand, but I’ll make another bold prediction: she’ll dither. It’s all the rage.


Important qualifier to the CDC’s “ebola” comment:

You know, it’s becoming really obvious that the CDC is very bad at science communication, at a time when we need the science communicated effectively.

Comments

  1. says

    My workplace just reversed course on masking, now requiring everyone who isn’t working from home to wear one, regardless of vaccination status, except while “in your personal workspace, or while eating or drinking”. It’s those two exceptions that chafe my ass. As if germs won’t find their way out of a 2-wall cubicle in an enclosed space. Luckily, I have the WFH option, even though my new manager is pushing for at least one day in the office per week. Why? I mean, I don’t have more than a 20 minute commute, tops, but why pack up my work shit at home and haul it into the office one day a week?

    I prefer the term waffling. It denotes more cluelessness than dithering.

  2. stroppy says

    How much of this is caused by internal CDC stumbling around and how much by political lassitude from above? Hate to say it, but I think some of this comes from the Biden admin’s half assed attempt to give people some relief from restrictions. None of which would be such a problem to begin with, of course, without the frenetic activity of Republican plague rats from the very beginning.

  3. raven says

    The delta variant has changed the pandemic by a lot and not in a good way.

    Washingtonpost.com 7/29/2021

    The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox,
    and
    vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.
    and
    Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.

    This evolved version of the Covid-19 virus replicates faster than the old one, to 1000X higher levels in the upper respiratory tract, and causes more severe disease. It can infect vaccinated people who can spread it to other vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

    If you have a new variant this different, by necessity you have to change your strategy and tactics to adapt to a new situation.

  4. raven says

    Washingtonpost:

    Kathleen Neuzil, …
    “We really need to shift toward a goal of preventing serious disease and disability and medical consequences, and not worry about every virus detected in somebody’s nose,” Neuzil said. “It’s hard to do, but I think we have to become comfortable with coronavirus not going away.”

    I don’t think anyone thought this virus was ever going to go away.
    The hope was that it would eventually act more like a seasonal cold coronavirus and come and go.

    Right now I/we don’t see an end to this pandemic in the USA.
    The delta virus might well resurge again in the Fall when the kids and college students go back to school and everyone starts spending more time indoors.

    There is also the possibility that the delta variant will be followed by other variants that are even worse. The most obvious candidates are ones that evade the vaccines. This is called antigen escape and is well known. Some pathogens have done it, some never have.

  5. hillaryrettig1 says

    Our “leaders” at all levels of society have been failing us. (But enriching themselves and keeping they and their loved ones safe in the process.)

  6. says

    Our “leaders” at all levels of society have been failing us. (But enriching themselves and keeping they and their loved ones safe in the process.)

    Someone published a great slideshow of republican politicians getting their vaccinations. A lot of the “no mask” pose is that they’re lying: they’ve been vaccinated.

  7. whheydt says

    It may be an “interesting” school year.

    Locally, every county in the Bay Area–except the one I live in–is recommending wearing a mask indoors even if one is vaccinated. I didn’t know–previously–that the county health official was that deep into the right wing…

    (I never quit wearing a mask when going out, so it’s “same old, same old” for me.)

  8. garnetstar says

    You’re right, PZ, your university will close in-person classes when you say. Last semester, mine closed after one week of in-person classes: that’s all it took to achieve exponential growth in cases. And, that was with Alpha.

    My school is currently requiring vaccinations, but says that masks are optional. That won’t last long.

    I’m full-out back to where I was last spring before vaccination: masks at all times, social distancing, no gatherings. My family too. I’m going to be ahead of the surge and not behind it.

    And, as per your previous post, looks like we’ll need masks for the smoke of the burning west soon as well. Might as well get them out now.

  9. whheydt says

    In somewhat related news… Biden is requiring Federal employees to be vaccinated (or have frequent tests). Santa Clara County is doing the same.

    There are two exceptions, one reasonable and one a glaring hole…. The first is the obvious exemption for medical reasons (that for some people, getting vaccinated is contraindicated). The other is a “religious” exemption.

    What I would look to see (but I wouldn’t bet on happening) is: in the first case a sworn (as in subject to perjury charges if false) statement by a physician that they have seen the person in a medical capacity and they are officially a patient of that physician. For the second case, a sworn (same conditions) statement by a recognized authority from the religion claimed by the person that there is, in fact a tenet of the religion’s dogma that prohibits vaccination.

    (California removed the religious and “personal philosophy” exemptions from the usual school vaccination requirements. This has resulted in a flood of spurious medical exemptions, for which a law has since been passed to crack down on. So requiring supporting documentation for a medical exemption isn’t just a “make work” exercise. It is a serious necessity.)

    In short… You want to be exempt from vaccination requirements? Provide enforceable documentation to support your claim.

  10. raven says

    …or have frequent tests

    This gives the antivaxxers an out and removes one of their excuses for being antisocial Plague Rats. I tried to look up how frequent frequent tests are and didn’t find anything. I’ve heard weekly before.
    It’s a bit of effort on their part but whatever, their life, their choice.

    The antivaxxers will all eventually get Covid-19 virus and end up vaccinated whether they want to or not. This virus is very contagious and it is everywhere.

  11. stuffin says

    Mask up, vaccinations and distance till further notice should be the message.

  12. says

    @#1, drksky

    Luckily, I have the WFH option, even though my new manager is pushing for at least one day in the office per week. Why? I mean, I don’t have more than a 20 minute commute, tops, but why pack up my work shit at home and haul it into the office one day a week?

    Sounds like your manager is dimly aware that his position is unnecessary and overpaid, and wants people in the office so he can be seen Doing Things.

    @#6, hillaryrettig1

    Our “leaders” at all levels of society have been failing us. (But enriching themselves and keeping they and their loved ones safe in the process.)

    Which is exactly the behavior one would expect, given the last 40 years.

    @#11, raven

    It’s a bit of effort on their part but whatever, their life, their choice.

    With the original virus, a person could apparently become infected but asymptomatic in as little as 2 days. The delta variant reproduces faster, which means an asymptomatic carrier could presumably appear faster. So a weekly test isn’t going to help all that much — you’d really need the testing to be daily, or preferably even more frequent than that. (And since the fast test apparently has a very high rate of both false positives and false negatives, even that wouldn’t really help much.) That means that somebody who isn’t vaccinated but has “frequent tests” is still very much a plague rat, and it is not just “their life” they are risking but the lives of everybody around them.

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    [tangent] ahead:
    TRMS (with Rachel on vacation) put up a graphic last night of corporations now requiring their employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, while encouraging them to get vaccinated (IE the Fauci ouchie) as well.
    The only airline shown was DELTA.
    I wonder if it was the coincidence of their name being the motivator to jump on eliminating the variant.
    Could be the graphic designer was making a point.

  14. davidc1 says

    The UK can blame that twat faced twat johnson for the Delta Variant ,he was so desperate to get a trade deal with India ,he gave the ok for travel between the two Countries .

  15. birgerjohansson says

    davidc @ 15

    Johnson has mishandled the pandemic so consistently that the death rate per 100,000 British is twice that of Ireland, a country physically linked with UK and with weaker health care/medicine infrastructure.

  16. davidc1 says

    @16 Right ,as I have posted on many places ,I scoop things out of my cat’s litter box that would do a better job of running the govt .He has enriched his mates with dodgy PPE deals ,wasted billions on track and trace apps that don’t work .
    Yet the fecking readers of the daily hate and the stun would still vote for him .

  17. birgerjohansson says

    I am the first to admit the Swedish authorities have made mistakes, but Tegnell et al went to great lengths to provide consistent advice to avoid confusion.
    .
    Much has been made about the refusal to lock down completely, but the death rate was not higher than in central & western Europe.
    Why Finland, Denmark and Norway had so much lower deaths than the rest of Europe is not well understood at the moment, this is something researchers will be scrutinizing for years.
    In regard to the topic, the rate of virus spreading was always determining the severity of the restrictions, resisting calls last summer to open up more. The consistent message did help.
    .
    Unfortunately, last fall authorities overestimated their ability to stop the virus from making a rapid return. We now know that PPE, face masks and other measures cannot serve as a substitute for vaccines when protecting the elderly. Despite quarantine, the virus got into elder care facilities.
    -Once vaccines became available the public had enough confidence in the authorities to ignore anti-vaxxers and exaggerated claims about vaccine risks.
    The limiting factor the last six months has been vaccine availability.

    But all is not well; the last month it seems many youths think their age will be a sufficient defence against covid, leading to a vaccine slowdown in this demographic.
    While mortality is very close to zero it is hard to make young people understand they are preventing herd immunity- it is apparently too abstract.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    davidc1
    We need to invent new language to describe the likes of Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson. The usual invectives were appropriate for Thatcher or Reagan but we have entered the South Park Zone, where ordinary reality fragments.

  19. acroyear says

    “While mortality is very close to zero it is hard to make young people understand they are preventing herd immunity- it is apparently too abstract.”

    So it seems are the concerns of long covid (taste or smell that never returns 100%, heart damage, lung damage that can lead to a lung cancer later, and now they’re talking mental impairment), or the stresses the thing puts on your body and your mind in general as it takes you down to isolated bedrest for 2 weeks (all the while you’re running the likelihood of infecting everybody in your flat).

    All too often people see their doctor at 50-60 and are told “i see this problem and you’re gonna need surgery or you might not live long…but if you hadn’t when you were 24, this likely wouldn’t have been a problem.” Covid is likely going to be one of those – the damage it can do with a full infection (as opposed to a vaccinated one) can be traumatic in the long term.

  20. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 birgerjohansson
    Can I add the Jason Kenney the Premier of Alberta to the list,

    As Covid cases are increasing in the province, the provincial gov’t is stopping quarantines, masking, contact tracing etc., etc., in ~ 3 weeks. This is as the province is waging war on the doctors and nurses. Even BoZo does not seem as stupid and heaven knews he sets a high bar. Buckle your seatbelts, Alberta: Kenney Government adopts ‘stupidest public health response to the pandemic in the G7’

  21. daulnay says

    We’re seeing the same dithering problem with global warming/climate change. Rather than take the hard steps, politicians and people want to pretend that we can continue as we normally did. And that just puts off the hard steps, worsening the problem in the meantime.

  22. chris says

    I know it was the 1970s, but why is the woman in the car commercial holding a naked kid? Was the advertising of that car as bad as its death design?

  23. says

    @#22, daulnay:

    They will stop doing that as soon as voters stop rewarding that behavior. In the US, letting the Clintons kick the can down the road on climate change but still continue to basically control the Democratic Party means that nobody in the party worries about the reaction of voters when they do nothing about it. (And Democrats, including a lot of the ones on this board, continue to justify that by promoting “lesser of two evils” nonsense. “Oh, so what if the candidate held more stock in Exxon than any other Congress member while being a member of the Energy committee and blocked legislation on carbon emissions? So what if he consistently blocked legislation to regulate drug pricing while his offspring was CEO of a drug company? So what if he consistently crossed the aisle to help Republicans while blocking the official Democratic platform? He’s a Democrat so we have to vote for him and give him important committee postings!” (And yes, all of that is a description of a real Democratic member of Congress.)

  24. John Morales says

    Vicar, daulnay refers to the world. You know, the globe we inhabit.
    Nothing specific about the USA there.

    So what if he consistently crossed the aisle to help Republicans while blocking the official Democratic platform?

    Heh. You can’t keep your bullshit consistent, can you?

    (You realise you’ve just conceded there’s a difference between the Republican and the Democratic platforms, contrary to your usual shtick about their being the same?)

    the Clintons

    :)

  25. makarman says

    The cdc is accumulating quite the track record.
    Something that I deal with daily as a chronic pain patient, are the ‘opioid prescribing guidelines’ issued by that agency in 2016. Intended to help pcp’s in beginning opiate treatment, it was quickly taken as law by many state legislatures, Insurance companies, pain mgmt. docs and the dea. Result: millions of pain patients tapered down to ineffective doses, abandoned completely and doctors cherrypicked from government pdmp’s, prosecuted and imprisoned by the dea for “overprescribing”. Facts: pharmaceutical opioid rx’s down 60% since 2012, while od’s (almost completely from heroin/illicit fentanyl) hit an all-time high of 98,000 in 2020. That’s a fact, jack! This particular govt anagram agency is acting more and more like population control!

  26. KG says

    Much has been made about the refusal to lock down completely, but the death rate was not higher than in central & western Europe.
    Why Finland, Denmark and Norway had so much lower deaths than the rest of Europe is not well understood at the moment, this is something researchers will be scrutinizing for years. birgerjohansson@18

    The obvious explanation is that it was because they locked down and Sweden didn’t. All four countries had considerable advantages over most of the rest of Europe – highly effective health and welfare systems, low rates of poverty and multiple occupancy, high levels of social trust. Lockdowns have reduced infection rates consistently in a wide range of countries and at all stages of the pandemic.

  27. KG says

    promoting “lesser of two evils” nonsense. – The Vicar@24

    While promoting the greater of two evils, as you do quite obsessively, will obviously sort climate disruption and the pandemic, stat!

  28. taykee says

    @ 26 KG (sorry, I forgot the formatting system in use here as I haven’t been around for some years and even had to create a new account)

    I just a couple of days ago had a… let’s call it a frustrating conversation with someone who was wondering why LA with its 60% vaccination rate was doing so much worse than countries like NZ, Australia, and Norway combined. I kept telling them that you can’t equate geography and numbers for one, but also the policies of said countries versus a city that is actually a 10+ cities slapped together packed in so densely.

    I also made the argument that of those countries, none of them have the same predatory healthcare and working culture, though with Australia I admit I don’t know if I was correct.

  29. says

    Right. So the appropriate message from the very beginning should have been conservative, assuming the worst and establishing a consistent policy. I want to hear the words, “It wasn’t as bad as we feared, now that we’ve got solid evidence from three months of hard science we can think about easing some restrictions,”

    Back in Spring 2020, I recall news items about a scarce few responsible US school district admins saying they would “rather be accused of overreacting than having not done enough” as they shut down schools. It looks like nobody has learnt anything from them, then or now.

    Here in Taiwan, it was only Tuesday after almost two weeks of less than 40 cases per day (and less than 30 in each of the past 7 days) that the Taiwan government has finally eased restrictions from Level 3 to Level 2, allowing restaurant dining again and cram schools to reopen if all the staff are vaccinated.

    Cities and provinces aren’t going along with it. Most regional and local governments are keeping the more stringent Level 3 restrictions, likely until numbers are back to April levels and the percent of people vaccinated reaches a certain level. Even money grubbing McDonalds refuses to open its dining area, remaining take-out only.

    If only it were like that everywhere.

  30. gorobei says

    I think everybody in the field of advertising has been repeatedly facepalming for the past six months…

    If we grade the CDC, etc, with an “A” for product research and product development, they get a “D-” for advertising. They have a product they need to sell to 90% of the US population, and their entire advertising campaign is putting their CEO on TV now and then, and a few press releases?

    They should have started market research a while ago, engaged the ad agencies that branded and produced the ads for Claritin, Viagra, etc.

    This is 2021, not 1921. We know how to affect mass consumer behavior. We do it everyday to sell soap, why can’t we do it at the same scale to sell a critical public health measure?

  31. gorobei says

    I think everybody in the field of advertising has been repeatedly facepalming for the past six months…

    If we grade the CDC, etc, with an “A” for product research and product development, they get a “D-” for advertising. They have a product they need to sell to 90% of the US population, and their entire advertising campaign is putting their CEO on TV now and then, and a few press releases?

    They should have started market research a while ago, engaged the ad agencies that branded and produced the ads for Claritin, Viagra, etc.

    This is 2021, not 1921. We know how to affect mass consumer behavior. We do it everyday to sell soap, why can’t we do it at the same scale to sell a critical public health measure?

  32. stroppy says

    gorobei @ 31

    Hmm. There’s something in what you say, but I think it glosses over deeper problems having to do both with the entities involved getting on the same page, and with the intense program of agitprop and misinformation that has hardened opposition to evidence based reasoning.

    As for the CDC, it seems to have a problem with science communication both internally (to the rest of government) and externally in terms of transparency in their decision making processes. That’s different from PSAs on the one hand and marketing on the other. The “marketing” aspect would largely append to policy set in the White House not the CDC.

    It’s worth mentioning that there is also a fair amount of research and (frustrating) experience in the field of science communication, which is well worth studying.

    The problem with marketing as a blanket solution is that it exists inside a business silo that tends to see every problem as a nail that only a business hammer can pound. That, and let’s be honest here, techniques of misrepresentation are built into the “ad man” model.

  33. beholder says

    You know, it’s becoming really obvious that the CDC is very bad at science communication, at a time when we need the science communicated effectively.

    You’re burying the lede.

    President Biden is apparently directing his relevant science agencies to cover up important info known for months about the seriousness of this pandemic, in order to please his bosses in industry and on Wall Street. If this happened under Trump, the opposition would rightly regard it as a criminal act.

  34. whheydt says

    I say an article yesterday that contained two interesting developments.

    First, there is a trial underway to test COVID booster shots (specifically the Phizer vaccine).

    Second, Israel is offering booster shots to everyone there over 60.

    One can see annual booster shots against COVID in our future. Perhaps it’ll be possible to combine them with annual flu shots (or, at least, get both at the same time).

  35. stroppy says

    The CDC was no doubt unprepared to become a political football and was blindsided by the intense Trump interference. I don’t think it has recovered from the damage that caused.

    I doubt there’s some nefarious conspiracy on the part of Biden, but it does look to me like there was an episode of incompetence involved.

  36. Nancy Mannikko says

    As a former CDC writer-editor I can attest the two things the agency is good at are diluting messages and holding endless meetings. The communications experts would produce nice, tight, to the point information and the folks higher in the food chain would go to work immediately figuring out how to bury the most important piece as deeply as possible in a forest of unnecessary distracting verbiage. They didn’t just bury the lede. They built tombs that if constructed of stone would be the envy of an Egyptian pharoah.

    As for the meetings addiction, iIf there ever is a truly devastating fast-moving pandemic (e.g., airborne Ebola or its equivalent) by the time CDC finishes holding meetings trying to figure out who’s responsible for doing what the rest of us will all be dead.

  37. whheydt says

    Re: taykee @ #29…
    Los Angeles was once described as “fifty suburbs in search of a city.”

  38. rydan says

    Trump was beyond stupid and allowed the virus to take over the US. But Biden should know better. He declared victory months ago (sound familiar?) and told everyone to drop their masks because they did their patriotic duty and got vaccinated. Trump had 6 weeks of advance notice that the plague was coming to our shores but Biden just watched idly for months as it swept through and destroyed entire countries before finally arriving. Instead of closing borders they just opened them and promoted celebrating. Two sides of the same coin.

  39. John Morales says

    rydan: “He [Biden] declared victory months ago”

    He did? Surely you have some sort of evidence for that claim?

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