Opinion: Institutional stupidity — the CDC

A little more than a week ago, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proclaimed that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or practice physical distancing, “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, of territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local businesses and workplace guidance.”


Last May (2020), in the United States, the seven-day average of new cases of COVID-19 ranged between 21,967 and 34,286. So far, this year the seven-day average for May (2021) ranges between 38,534 and 71,865. Anyone who believes that the pandemic is over is living in an alternate universe.


I think that the statistic that has moved the CDC to cave in to public and political pressure rather than to maintain the former integrity of the institution is that the seven-day average of new cases is down from January, when the nation was experiencing a seven-day average of more than 200,000 new cases. That was the peak of the pandemic.


The fact that we have fewer cases per week now does not mean that the pandemic is over. The important thing to remember is that the virus is still active in our country, and it is more active than it was a year ago.


What’s next?


Like everyone else, I fervently hope that the downward trend continues until we are rid of this disease. However, we need to remember that we’ve reached this point because many (but certainly not all) of us have been wearing our masks and observing physical distancing. To stop now and follow the misdirected guidelines of the CDC is sheer insanity.


I fear that we’ll see an upsurge in cases once again because, not only did the CDC make a bad decision in issuing new guidelines before the disease has been conquered, but also because the President of the United States has gone on television and delivered the same message. His words were hailed by schools, businesses, state and local politicians, and anyone else who stands to gain from a “return to normal.”


No matter what you may think of POTUS, whether he was Donald Trump or is Joe Biden, his words carry tremendous weight among millions of Americans. The former and current Presidents are political animals; they speak to their bases. And their bases seem mindlessly to respond.


This is a far cry from the message that the people of the United States received on Sept. 12, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation from Rice University. He challenged us to “climb the highest mountain,” citing the “impossible” accomplishments of our past. And he set another “impossible” goal for the future:


“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things (accomplishments and aspirations), not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energy and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Unfortunately, Kennedy did not live to witness Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.


Today, it may seem “hard” to continue to wear our masks, curtail business activity, refrain from travel, and so forth. But we need to do that which is hard in order to restore true normalcy in the future.


Playing the odds


Americans like to gamble, and they are willing do so even when the odds are stacked against them. Millions of people buy lottery tickets. According to Powerball’s “View Prizes and Odds Chart” and Mega Millions’ “How to Play,” the odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292,200,000 and the odds of winning Mega Millions are 1 in 302,500,000.


By comparison, the odds of dying by being struck by lightning are 1,200,000 to 1; plane crash, 11,000,000 to 1: and snakebite, 50,000,000 to 1. Yet, despite the “impossible” odds, which grow even higher as the amount of the prize increases, people are not dissuaded from buying lottery tickets.


Now, consider this. The efficacy (in experimental conditions) of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines is 95 percent. That means that 5 percent of vaccinated people contracted the virus. In other words, there is a 1 in 20 chance that a person who has received both injections of these vaccines will contract the virus.


According to the CDC, the vaccine may keep most of these people from getting sick, but they have the virus in their systems and can spread that virus to others. People who received vaccines from other providers have less protection. And, of course, we have no way to tell who has and — more importantly — who has not been vaccinated.


Because of the continued resistance to the Covid vaccine, epidemiologists believe that we may never achieve herd immunity. So, I’m going to continue to wear my mask and observe physical distance until the U.S. at least approaches that goal and the seven-day average of new cases is a lot closer to zero. How ‘bout you?


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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.