For 14 months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended draconian restrictions on Americans’ daily lives to combat the spread of COVID-19. The CDC disregarded the psychological hardships and economic losses the restrictions inflicted. Now the evidence is emerging that the restrictions were based on flimsy science or sheer guesswork.
Last week, MIT researchers showed that the CDC’s six-foot social-distancing rule has no basis in science. If you’re indoors, your risk is the same, whether an infected person is 3 feet away from you, 6 feet away, or even 60 feet away.
So much for carefully standing 6 feet apart in the grocery-store line. It’s a joke. On you.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the MIT researchers explained that an infected person emits the virus in an aerosol that can waft across indoor space, traveling 60 feet or more. The 6-foot rule, which restaurants, churches, schools, gyms and retailers follow, offers no protection. The key factors are whether you’re wearing a mask and how much time you spend in the space.
On Sunday, White House health guru Anthony Fauci pulled the veil off another CDC guideline: wearing masks outdoors. He admitted the risk of contracting COVID outdoors is “really, really quite low.” Scientists have known that for months because outdoor air movement will disperse the aerosol. You’d have to be talking nose-to-nose with an infected person to catch COVID outdoors.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that the CDC’s guidance is eliminating most outdoor masking for people who are vaccinated. Truth is, outdoor masking is ridiculous in nearly all circumstances. It’s inconsistent with what scientists have learned about how the virus spreads.
When the pandemic hit, in February 2020, scientists suspected the virus was transmitted on surfaces and through droplets emitted when people sneeze or cough. With no knowledge about COVID-19, they applied what they knew about influenza. When a person with the flu coughs, droplets land on the floor or a surface within 6 feet. That was the origin of the 6-foot rule.
It was guesswork. As former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb says, CDC bureaucrats should disclose when they’re uncertain about the science behind a recommendation so the public can decide “how seriously we want to take it.”
By June, “super-spreader” events showed that COVID-19 differed from flu. Though COVID can be spread on surfaces and through droplets like flu, it more often floats across indoor spaces and is blown away outdoors.
That’s when the CDC should have reconsidered the 6-foot rule and the outdoor-masking rule. Instead, Americans are struggling to comply.
At the Doubletree in Syracuse, hundreds of banquet-department jobs depend on hosting big weddings. That’s not possible because New York state is requiring tables be 6 feet apart, in keeping with CDC guidance.
The same 6-foot rule has been “the biggest barrier to getting kids back in school,” notes Harvard infectious-disease specialist Westyn Branch-Elliman. In March, the CDC revised guidelines but only for elementary schools. This week, as New York students return to class, the 6-foot rule is still being applied in middle and high schools, needlessly limiting capacity.
Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary faults the CDC’s “counter-science track record of being late and wrong.”
Even less scientific than the 6-foot rule is the agency’s guidance for the fully vaccinated. The agency tells them to “continue to wear masks, maintain physical distance and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people.”
That guidance eliminates a major incentive for getting the shots in the first place and will slow America’s recovery. Infections among the vaccinated do occur, but very rarely, and serious illness is even rarer. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reduce the risk of developing COVID by 90 to 95 percent, compared with being unvaccinated. US data show the risk of getting infected after these vaccines is a minuscule 0.008 percent.
The science is clear: Get vaccinated and enjoy life again.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.