Government: Be honest about Covid
It's been nearly two years since the first Covid case was confirmed in the U.S., and we seem no closer to vanquishing this foe than we were in 2020. Official pronouncements, recommendations and policies continue to lag behind the reality of Covid infections, unable to keep up with scientific understanding or the virus itself. It's a mess.
Expert advice mutates almost as quickly as the virus. No sooner does government try one approach, then another wrinkle appears.
While the Biden administration pivots to focus on access to home testing, new studies show that over-the-counter tests may not detect the omicron variant in its early stages. The Biden administration is investing billions to make free tests available, and people rely on them to make decisions about gathering with others.
The CDC generated a firestorm of criticism last month when it reduced the number of days infectious people should isolate, from 10 to 5, without requiring a negative test result to return to work. To some, the move seemed more about appeasing business than keeping people healthy.
Before the holidays, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country's foremost authority on infectious disease, reassured the public that they could safely gather with family as long as they had been tested and received a vaccine booster. Yet the number of breakthrough cases among vaccinated people in Connecticut nearly doubled between Dec. 22 and Jan. 5, from 43,337 to 83,147 — suggesting that those holiday gatherings may not have been safe after all.
While partisan criticism of the Biden administration's Covid response is to be expected, even the president's former advisers have chipped in, calling for a new approach.
The Biden White House at least has tried to follow the science. It is investing $3 billion to provide free test kits and has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up production of tests and masks. Trump's Operation Warp Speed yielded a vaccine that has saved many lives. If the official response, whether in action or advice, seems too little too late, that is testimony to the power of our foe. And the lag is exacerbated by competing interests that stymie public health efforts.
Parents want their children in schools, for many reasons, the difficulties of day care among them. Teachers recognize that in-person learning is more effective, but they don't want to die in the process.
Businesses that serve the public, including restaurants, hotels and cruise ships, can be prime sources of infection. But many businesses are hanging by a thread; another lockdown could bring financial disaster.
Finally, most people have had it. They are tired of isolating from family, wearing masks, working on Zoom, postponing vacations and constantly worrying.
What they don't want is conflicting advice. They don't want to be told the vaccine will allow them to congregate in small groups, and then catch Covid. They don't want to isolate for five days and then infect a coworker. They don't want to rely on a negative rapid test only to find they have been spreading the virus for days.
The most powerful message we could get from our leaders right now is the truth. What do they know? Statistically, they know that the vaccine protects against serious Covid disease. Being vaccinated might not keep you from catching the virus, but it most likely will keep you out of the ICU.
They know that more boosters might be needed, and scientists are working on a vaccine tailored to the omicron variant.
They know that the virus is airborne, and that social distancing and KN95 masks protect people.
Beyond that, too many official pronouncements in articles and on TV news shows are guesswork.
To complicate matters, the airwaves and internet are rife with misinformation — from the anecdotal to pure fiction. Some media seem intent on undermining scientific understanding to pander to a partisan audience.
When the experts get it wrong, the stakes are high. If home tests aren't reliable, and breakthrough cases become more likely, false assurances can endanger people's health. Misguided advice also makes it all the more difficult to persuade people to get vaccinated.
Our leaders should not be afraid to tell us when they simply don't know what Covid will do next.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.