The Public Health Establishment Failed

If the public health establishment wanted to burn their credibility, what would they have done differently this year? They argued against wearing masks in January, February and March. Not only did that help fuel the pandemic but undermined trust in them and gave ammunition to the anti-mask movement today. 

In those early days of the pandemic, mask denial was the word from public health experts. The CDC, FDA, WHO, Surgeon General, and countless experts trotted out by the media downplayed the usefulness of masks. 

Dr. Fauci even admitted he lied

Maybe they were just trying to conserve the mask supply for hospital workers– but a noble lie is still a lie. Maybe they didn’t think there was enough evidence to justify mask wearing– but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Mask wearing would have been a low-cost recommendation to slow the spread even if it didn’t work or has limited effectiveness. Maybe they didn’t want to undermine the consensus or some across as quacks. Either public health experts lied, didn’t know better, or refused to speak up. Whichever it is, they burned their own credibility.

But their credibility wasn’t burned by just one fire. As the pandemic ragged in China and began to spread around the globe, many downplayed the threat. Media outlets choose to hype the flu instead. Surgeon General Adams even tweeted about how COVID-19 was less dangerous than the flu.

Then we have the BLM protests which gripped the nation in late May and early June. Just weeks earlier public health experts condemned anti-lockdown protests as a major risk for spreading. When BLM protests started, they not only didn’t condemn them but actively supported them. Over 1,000 signed a letter condemning anti-lockdown protests and supporting BLM protests– “However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health… This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders.” 

As the New York Times put it: “Was public health advice in a pandemic dependent on whether people approved of the mass gathering in question? To many, the answer seemed to be “yes.” The double standard is even obvious to some. As one epidemiologist told the Times: “I certainly condemned the anti-lockdown protests at the time, and I’m not condemning the protests now, and I struggle with that, I have a hard time articulating why that is OK.”

Another echoed that opinion: “Instinctively, many of us in public health feel a strong desire to act against accumulated generations of racial injustice, but we have to be honest: A few weeks before, we were criticizing protesters for arguing to open up the economy and saying that was dangerous behavior. I am still grappling with that.”

Don’t wear a mask, actually, wear a mask. COVID-19 isn’t a big deal, actually, we need to shut down the economy. Large outdoor protests are bad, actually, large outdoor protests are good. Time and time, the expert class has failed this country. Yes, facts change. Yes, they need to avoid creating a panic. But they still have a responsibility to tell the American people the truth and inform them of the risk. Making broad and bold statements only to retract them a few weeks later raises questions about who to trust. Either through lying to the public, being openly partisan, or abruptly changing their consensus it shouldn’t be a surprise many are skeptical of them. We should be more skeptical of them than we were earlier this year. They burned their own credibility. 

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