The CDC still can’t communicate a simple concept effectively.

One of the most disturbing things about the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the poor performance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). First there was the crucial failure and delay in setting up testing for SARS-Cov-2. Then there were the confusing and contradictory instructions about wearing masks, not wearing masks, and surface decontamination. More recently, even the CDC‘s communications about social distancing and the risks around respiratory transmission have been proven inaccurate.

It was easy to blame this, appropriately, on the leadership at the CDC in the prior administration. They mismanaged the pandemic response and even undermined the agency’s efforts to right itself. However, recent events show the CDC still is not providing clear communications about protecting the public health of the United States. This ongoing failure to provide information in a manner that the citizens of our country can understand is truly disturbing.

The prime example of the CDC’s recent failed communications is their “mask infogram.” In order to evolve mask use as individuals become immune through vaccination, the CDC revised guidance for who should wear a mask and under what circumstances, breaking down the recommendations based on vaccination status. The diagram below that the CDC put out is remarkably complex!

The CDC recommendation on wearing masks for vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals.

The infogram lists a series of outdoor and indoor activities and has color codes for “safe, less safe and least safe” activities for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. One would think that much like a traffic light, red would mean wear a mask, yellow would mean optional mask use, and green would mean you don’t need a mask. However, that is not the case. While all the activities for fully vaccinated people are listed in green more than half of them appeared to require a mask in the pictures!

More surprisingly, it appears that vaccinated people need to wear a mask but don’t need to social distance and don’t need to wash their hands. Also, the definitions of different activities are vague. For example, what does it mean to, ”ride public transportation with limited occupancy” or “attend a full capacity worship service?”

This communication only serves to undermine the trust of people in vaccine efforts and confuse those who are trying to do the right thing when it comes to wearing masks.

Why didn’t they say no one needs a mask outdoors, and individuals who have been fully vaccinated only need to wear a mask indoors when surrounded by unvaccinated people? In contrast, unvaccinated people need to wear masks all the time indoors. This would be a recommendation that would be easy to follow and would better reward those who have been vaccinated.

After the acute pandemic is over, I think the country needs a blue-ribbon panel to review the CDC and make recommendations for its future. Given the ongoing problems at the agency we cannot trust the current organization to be ready to effectively serve the country in time of crisis. That is a public health catastrophe for the United States. 

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

4 thoughts on “The CDC still can’t communicate a simple concept effectively.

  1. Agreed we need much simpler directives at all levels. The color are misleading and don’t help in any manner, but your examples of clearer directives are not much better “Why didn’t they say no one needs a mask outdoors” I think you meant no fully vaccinated people need a mask outdoors except in crowded outdoor events. Fully Vaccinated people need to mask in public indoors.(in public there are still many unvaccinated people). Everyone should pay attention to hand washing and social distancing unless all parties are vaccinated.
    We just covered most of the above directives in a more understandable manner.
    Simpler, much simpler. Please lead by example.


    1. No, I meant no one needs a mask outdoors. All non vaccinated folks need a mask indoors and vaccinated people need a mask indoors when there are lots of unvaccinated people involved. That’s it.


  2. You touched on this briefly and is a point that I agree with, i.e., that this may be more about promoting a PR campaign re. “reward[ing] people who get vaccinated” than it is an effort to provide plain and simple guidance on mask-wearing. Promoting vaccinations is a worthy cause – I myself am fully-vaccinated now and reccomend to all my friends and acquaintances to do so – but the CDC is not the approprite place for this sort of thing to come from; PR campaigns from the government are notoriously politically-driven so those endeavors only invite skepticism.

    I think that the problems with the CDC transcend whatever administration is in office due to the sclerotic nature of beaurocracy in general, especially government beaurocracy. I have no ideas re. how to fix this except the possibility of at least trying to remove the political and beaurocratic aspect from the CDC and get it back to its mission of pure medical science. However, that would require removing the ability for administrations to be able to incluence the organization by appointing the leaders of the organization, something that IMHO is never going to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amen!
    Those who are not vaccinated should be responsible for masking and protecting themselves!!
    Those who are vaccinated deserve not being penalized for people who chose not to vaccinate themselves.
    Why are people outside biking and jogging ALONE with a mask on???
    People must not educated!
    I have read you faithfully
    Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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