It’s no wonder that people have felt confused about the coronavirus. Public health organizations like the CDC and WHO offered conflicting messages at the beginning of the pandemic. Then, they changed their recommendations frequently about COVID spread. The flip-flops have continued lately regarding the upcoming holidays.
Can You Safely Celebrate in Person?
Initially, the agency told people to avoid in-person gatherings around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, families were urged to plan virtual celebrations.
That was October 1, and the advice disappointed a lot of people. After all, now that more than half the country is vaccinated, gathering with loved ones should be safer than it was last year.
Within three days, however, that recommendation had disappeared from the CDC’s website. We are still awaiting revised recommendations. For people trying to make travel plans for the holidays, this lack of clarity is a challenge. Unfortunately, the CDC has had to reverse its recommendations to minimize COVID spread several times in the past. Read on for a bit of that history.
Flip-Flops on Face Masks:
Initially, both agencies insisted that the general public did not need to wear face masks. Then the CDC reversed. Now the World Health Organization has followed suit (June 5, 2020).
Stopping COVID Spread?
For a public heath organization, the WHO is extremely cautious.
It acknowledges that:
“Many countries have recommended the use of fabric masks/face coverings for the general public. At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”
We suspect that a lot of people will read that and assume they don’t need a mask. That would be shortsighted.
The WHO goes on to recommend use of non-medical masks in grocery stores, at work, social gatherings, mass gatherings, on busses, planes, and trains, and in closed setting such as schools and churches. But these experts go on to suggest that there are significant downsides to wearing a mask.
The “Potential Harms/Disadvantages” of Wearing a Mask:
WHO lists self-contamination when manipulating the face mask, potential headaches or breathing difficulties from the mask itself, skin rash from the mask, discomfort and “a false sense of security.” These public health experts also worry about “waste management issues” regarding “improper mask disposal” and “difficulty communicating for deaf persons who rely on lip reading.”
We are of the opinion that these disadvantages are outweighed by the potential to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
Asymptomatic COVID Spread
Dr. Anthony Fauci seems to be surprisingly unflappable. He’s been at the center of the coronavirus storm for months. In June of 2020, however, he appeared pretty annoyed with the World Health Organization’s infectious disease epidemiologist, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.
Perhaps that is because the “Technical Lead COVID-19” for WHO’s “Health Emergencies Programme” replied to a question about asymptomatic transmission:
“It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward. What we really want to be focused on are the following of symptomatic cases…From the data that we have it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.”
“It’s very rare.”
Dr. Fauci was not thrilled with Dr. Van Kerkhove’s message. He replied that her statement “was not correct.”
Dr. Fauci went on to state that:
“In fact, the evidence we have given the percentage of people, which is about 25% [to] 45%, of the totality of infected people likely are without symptoms. And we know from epidemiological studies that they can transmit to someone who is uninfected even when they are without symptoms.”
The WHO Flip-Flops on Asymptomatic COVID Spread
The day after Dr. Van Kerkhove declared that people who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic rarely spread the virus to others, she had to walk back her statement:
“I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know. And in that, I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. I was referring to a small subset of studies.”
The Firestorm Hits WHO Where it Hurts:
WHO has been the target of a lot of criticism. We won’t pile on.
But we did find the following statement revealing:
“Communicating complex science in real time about a new virus is not always easy, but we believe it’s part of our duty to the world and we can always do better. We welcome constructive debate and that’s how science advances. WHO advice will continue to evolve as new information becomes available.”
The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
We would be the first to admit that there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding COVID spread. We do know that it is highly contagious and that masks, distance and hand washing help to reduce transmission. Even though we were told at first that staying six feet apart would prevent COVID spread, even then a mask seems like a reasonable safety precaution. Now there is general recognition that viral particles can travel much further than six feet and good ventilation is essential. We only wish that after all this time there were an ample supply of N95 masks for all health care workers and the public at large so that people did not have to improvise with home-made fabric masks.
We welcome your thoughts in the comment section below.