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 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.