New from the CDC: 2 steps forward, 1 step back

This is very disappointing. We really had a chance to stick the landing here, but we didn’t. Getting a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated would have gone a long way towards shutting down this pandemic, but now cases are rising, community transmission is rising, and the CDC today revised their recommendations for vaccinated people. Here are some questions that I have been getting, and my best attempt at answering them.

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Delta Dawn: Fighting COVID with Facebook

I haven’t written in a while, mostly because COVID news has been slower lately and to some degree trending in a good direction. We have now vaccinated 173 million Americans, with 144 million (44% of the population) being “fully vaccinated” - 2 weeks after their last shot and protected. That’s an amazing achievement and a huge win in the fight against this virus. The vaccines are turning out to be incredibly safe and effective in real world data, not just in trials. New York City is at 0.4% positivity, and has been below 1% for a month. Mask mandates are dropping, in-person events are resuming and people are feeling hopeful for the first time in quite a while.

However - and this is VERY important - COVID isn’t “over”. It certainly isn't over in many countries around the world, but even in the US, there are large areas where vaccination rates are low, and this is a big potential problem. Whether because of general vaccine hesitancy, poor communication by health care providers, conspiracy theorists or political actors linking the shots to partisan identification, unvaccinated people are EXACTLY what the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to survive and thrive.

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Recommendation or mandate? Thoughts on the CDC's new guidelines

One of the hardest parts of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been communication. Trying to give people valid, current and useful information as our understanding of this new virus grows and changes every day. Striking a balance between an abundance of caution and a lack of responsibility. Recognizing that the people on this planet are not lab animals – where we just have to find the right medical treatment to fix the problem – but billions of individuals, each with their own fears, personalities and agendas. Any policy solution has to take into account psychology and sociology as much as it does epidemiology and virology.

So early on, there was a lot of criticism about recommendations that went beyond the science, in an attempt to achieve other policy goals and influence individual behavior. More recently, the reverse happened – the CDC’s new guidelines for indoor mask usage are being criticized because they ONLY consider the science and not the larger public policy implications. Here’s my take on this.

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Let me see you smile (vaccinated and outdoors!)

Something small but significant happened to me today. I was coming home from work, and a stranger smiled at me on the street. I saw her smile, and I smiled back, unmasked.

There’s still a LOT to worry about in the world of COVID-19 these days - new variants, fading antibody levels, vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, the situation in India, etc… But that little smile exchange felt like hearing the first bluebird of spring. It felt like seeing a crocus peek out through the snow. It felt like a sign that things might just get better.

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Lifting the Outdoor Mask Mandate

I remember making plans when we shut down the office last March - I figured that we needed to be closed for two weeks, and I was working out how we were going to deal with that. How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

It’s hard to gauge where we are as a city, as a nation and as a planet in the battle against COVID-19. The US is doing really well with vaccine distribution, and the real world outcomes have been fantastic, both in terms keeping people alive and of stopping the spread of new cases. On the other hand, variants are still evolving and people are still dying. Every day there is a flood of misinformation on social media and elsewhere - some out of ignorance, some out of bad faith.

What the country could really use right now is something to make it clear that we are winning, that our policies are being driving by science and data, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. What do I think would help? Lifting outdoor mask mandates.

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