Gabrielle Bauer advices precaution against the precautionary principle. (HT Iain Murray) Two slices:
The phrase “abundance of caution” captures the precautionary principle in a more literary way. It has a lofty sound to it, connoting wisdom and restraint. The locution exploded in popularity in the spring of 2020 and has since become a go-to apology for Covid restrictions. “Out of an abundance of caution,” a Toronto school closed for a week after an itinerant staff member tested positive. “Out of an abundance of caution,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture advised people with Covid to keep distance from their pets. “Out of abundance of caution,” Singapore required quarantine for incoming travelers who had antibodies after recovering from Covid, on the chance they were infected with a new variant. “Out of an abundance of caution,” the Biden administration issued new travel bans in response to the Omicron variant.
It’s far past time we ask ourselves when abundance really means excess, when our precautionary measures against Covid have gone too far, when we have ignored the costs and lost all sense of proportionality.
Used too liberally, the precautionary principle can keep us stuck in a state of extreme risk-aversion, leading to cumbersome policies that weigh down our lives. To get to the good parts of life, we need to accept some risk. We all seem to understand this in many areas of life. We do not, for instance, set a national speed limit at 30 miles per hour, despite the numerous lives we could save by doing so. Somewhere along the way, our society decided that the benefits of driving at faster speeds — family road trips, manageable commutes, visits to friends who live far away, adventure in remote places — balanced the risks. It’s called proportionality, and it’s how we have always lived our lives.
In ethics, the proportionality principle dictates that “responses should be proportional to the good that can be achieved and the harm that may be caused,” as Kate Jackson-Meyer from Boston College has put it. The principle pushes us to stretch our ethical muscles beyond the impulse to keep everyone as safe as possible this minute.
The Biden administration seems to think it knows better than physicians how to practice medicine. But its haphazard micromanagement of monoclonal antibodies to treat Covid-19 has created supply shortages, spread confusion, probably harmed patients, and undermined future treatment.
The dizzying turns the Biden administration took on monoclonals shows just how little it trusts physicians and local health officials. Yet local officials and providers are more likely than Washington bureaucrats to be aware of the variants and effective treatments in their region.
New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital system, for example, suspended infusions of the Lilly and Regeneron products on Dec. 19 because of Omicron, without any apparent government instruction and four days before the federal distribution pause.
Regulating the practice of medicine is outside the FDA’s congressionally authorized authority—the statute explicitly prohibits it. The FDA can regulate drugs and devices to ensure they are safe and effective for their intended use, as indicated through labeling requirements. But physicians decide on treatments—including off-label prescribing of FDA-approved drugs and devices for unapproved uses—because they are best able to assess their patients’ circumstances and the evolving state of scientific knowledge. Off-label usage is common and the standard of care in many specialties, including oncology and pediatrics.
At an individual level, knowing your own infection status can be extremely helpful, for example if you are planning to visit a vulnerable relative or friend. However, as we all know, a positive test result can have significant negative impacts, particularly if it entails loss of income and opportunity. If the tests are too sensitive, the problem is even worse.
Furthermore, the truth is that we are permanently crawling with germs. Expecting the individual to bear responsibility for any infection that he or she might pass on risks leaving us all living in a state of permanent guilt. Normally, this guilt is dispersed within the community.
This is not to say that, during a pandemic, we should not exercise care to protect the vulnerable by limiting contact with them while we are infectious (in fact, I would highly recommend this) but it is also important to remember that once a disease has become endemic, there is little else we can do other than not visit granny when we have a fulminant cold.
But to what extent should we self-isolate upon testing positive or being told that we may have been in contact with someone who tested positive? As we have witnessed over the past few months, these actions do little to stop the spread of infection and create enormous problems for the delivery of healthcare and education. Sanctioning the use of tests that suggest people are contagious even when they are not magnifies the problem.
Continuing with a mass testing, mass isolation strategy in response to a disease that has become endemic is merely piling up the misery. The Government must change course.
Wonderful that so many Twitter users are now opposing misguided, inefficient and unscientific Covid restrictions. You are the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you.
(DBx: My friend Lyle Albaugh, however, will understandably – and not with a little bit of irritation – ask these Twitter users: What took you so long?)
Here’s a headline in the Daily Mail: “Freedom Convoy truckers say Trudeau and North America’s liberal media are falsely demonizing them as ultra-right-wing crazies. And after spending a week in their midst, the Mail’s reporter can only conclude these peaceful, good-natured protestors are 100% correct about that – if nothing else.” A slice:
Since DailyMail.com arrived in Ottawa last week we have seen no indication of violence or vandalism or any extremist political agenda. In fact, the demonstrations have shown the opposite.
Apart from the incessant honking of their horns, all has been peaceful. The truckers seem to have united the people of Canada in a common goal, to get rid of government mandates.
I’ve spent time in Melbourne myself and yes, I too could have happily lived there: benign climate, lots of parks and open spaces, great food, leafy suburbs. But that, according to Field, has been its undoing. Like California, he says, it has attracted so many woke urban professionals that it always votes left, ending up with permanently Labor party politicians who have zero incentive to flirt with a single conservative idea.
Perhaps this helps explains why so relatively few people resisted when state premier Dan Andrews used the ‘pandemic’ as an excuse to turn Victoria into an analogue of communist China. Perhaps the good lefties of Melbourne shared his belief in the transformative powers of the muscular state and agreed that desperate times call for Xi-like measures.
These measures included: a declared ‘state of disaster’ giving police carte blanche to enter your home and carry out spot checks without permission or a warrant; an 8pm to 5am curfew; a ban on leaving home in the day except for food and essentials, care and caregiving, daily exercise or work; exercise to last no longer than an hour and to be conducted within a 5km radius of your home; mandatory masks, even outdoors.
For those who bought into Andrews’s ‘zero Covid’ public health narrative, perhaps this seemed sensible and proportionate. Those few who did try to resist were ruthlessly crushed by the authorities: ‘ringleaders’ who tried to organise protests (including a pregnant woman) were arrested in their homes; police tactics at demos grew increasingly thuggish. On one occasion 500 protesters were ‘kettled’ for hours without water in the heat and arrested one by one; on another, the police fired baton rounds at unarmed demonstrators, causing hideous bruising; finally the authorities sent in hardcore anti-terrorist police to patrol the streets in armoured cars, raising understandable fears that sooner or later a civilian was going to get killed.
As a clinical psychologist and mother, I’m deeply concerned about masking children. Although I’m speaking from a psychology perspective rather than an infectious disease perspective, it may be a helpful backdrop to know that The New York Times reports that children have a greater risk from car rides than from covid. There are several domains where I’m concerned we’re inadvertently tampering with healthy development by masking children for multiple hours on a daily basis.
Social cognition and language: It’s no surprise that social development for children includes learning to read and send social signals, including reading facial expressions. We’ll also include things like “reading lips” here as well, since reading lips helps young children tremendously to learn and understand language.
Social skills can be as basic as learning to recognize a smile as a friendly greeting and to offer one in return when you approach a group; or learning to not smile broadly when someone is wearing a sad expression telling a story about how their favorite toy got dumped in the garbage (it may be hard to believe for readers without experience with children, but the “toy in the garbage” story can actually sound quite funny to four-year-old ears).
Social cognition skill acquisition also includes things like learning the power of how cracking a slightly campy, sly, or nervous smile in a tense moment can help to introduce a touch of levity and decrease anxiety– for example, my five year old loves this type of humor in life’s “uh oh” moments like when he suddenly can’t find his special show-and-tell item anywhere at the exact “showtime” moment in class; and his (totally unmasked because I live in Florida) class will often respond to his sheepish smile with giggles that put him and themselves at ease. The same is true for other “faux distress” responses like an exaggerated sense of surprise.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams visited an elementary school in Decatur, Georgia, on Friday. In a photo from the visit, Abrams is the only unmasked person; she is surrounded by a sea of masked children.
No one languishes under stricter COVID-19 mitigation measures more than the nation’s young people, even though the disease poses a far lower statistical risk to them. (Abrams, given her age and weight, would theoretically be in a higher risk category. But since she is vaccinated, she has little to fear from COVID-19.) All across the country, adults are permitted to be unmasked in a variety of circumstances, but many schools—particularly public schools in areas controlled by Democrats—remain mask-militant.
Abrams lashed out at her critics for pouncing on the mask issue. “It is shameful that our opponents are using a Black History Month reading event for Georgia children as the impetus for a false political attack, and it is pitiful and predictable that our opponents continue to look for opportunities to distract from their failed records when it comes to protecting public health during the pandemic,” she wrote on Instagram.
If anyone should feel shame here, it’s those political figures who keep exposing themselves as hypocrites on COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supposedly shows that wearing a face mask in public places dramatically reduces your risk of catching COVID-19. The CDC summed up the results in a widely shared graphic that says wearing a cloth mask “lowered the odds of testing positive” by 56 percent, while the risk reduction was 66 percent for surgical masks and 83 percent for N95 or KN95 respirators.
If you read the tiny footnotes, you will see that the result for cloth masks was not statistically significant. So even on its face, this study, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Friday, did not validate the protective effect of the most commonly used face coverings—a striking fact that the authors do not mention until the end of the sixth paragraph. And once you delve into the details of the study, it becomes clear that the results for surgical masks and N95s, while statistically significant, do not actually demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, contrary to the way the CDC is framing them.
That framing is part of a broader pattern. In 2020, the CDC went from dismissing the value of general mask wearing to describing it as “the most important, powerful public health tool we have.” In September 2020, then–CDC Director Robert Redfield asserted, without any evidence, that masks were more effective at preventing infection than vaccines would prove to be. Even before the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, Redfield’s successor, Rochelle Walensky, implied the same thing, exaggerating the evidence supporting mask use in a way that made vaccination seem inferior.
The CDC consistently bends over backward to validate its recommendation that everyone, including children as young as 2, wear masks. It is thereby undermining its already damaged credibility by distorting what we actually know. In this case, the CDC is asserting a causal relationship without considering alternative explanations for the results it is touting.
The CDC’s handling of this study has implications that extend beyond the empirical question of how well masks work. In this case and others, the agency has proven that it cannot be trusted to act as an honest broker of scientific information. The result is that Americans are increasingly skeptical of anything the CDC says, even when it is sensible and well-grounded. While the CDC’s desperate attempts to back up conclusions it has already reached may be aimed at protecting its reputation and credibility, they have the opposite effect.
In addition to controlling landlords, the CDC also ignores research that opposes its position on the robustness of natural immunity. According to famed Johns Hopkins researcher Marty Makary, the results of the latest data on reinfection rates demonstrated that “natural immunity was 2.8 times as effective in preventing hospitalization and 3.3 to 4.7 times as effective in preventing Covid infection compared with vaccination.”
Yet, the CDC spun the truth when reporting on this study. They claimed “vaccination remains the safest strategy for averting future SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalizations, long-term sequelae, and death,” based on a comparison between hybrid immunity (combination of prior infection and vaccination) with natural immunity. They did not clarify what the study’s results actually show: that vaccination does not significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization for those with natural immunity.
But why would they? These findings directly dispute the position held by the CDC and the Biden administration. The current CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will not budge on her position either. In October of 2020, she signed the John Snow Memorandum, which still states “there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection.”
In almost all of the country, one is allowed to sit maskless for hours drinking in a crowded bar or watching a movie in a theater. If that behavior is allowed, it’s hard to see the reasoning behind stricter masking requirements aboard well-ventilated airplanes where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low.
The long hours spent aboard planes or in airports, where face coverings are also mandated, make masking requirements all the more annoying and burdensome. That’s probably why masks are the immediate cause of so many in-flight altercations.
That certainly doesn’t excuse any individual passenger’s violent behavior, but it does suggest ending mask mandates would be a pretty straightforward means of preventing it.
(DBx: At least two people have told me over the past year that the requirement that masks be worn while in airports and on board airplanes dissuades them from flying. I’m sure many other people throughout the world are likewise dissuaded. Contrary to the assertions of many people, wearing a mask for hours on end is not a minor inconvenience. If the net effect of the masking requirement is to prompt greater use of automobiles for travel – especially, of course, for middle-distance travel, such as, say, for the 400 miles from Greenville, SC, to Richmond, VA – then, because driving is far more dangerous than flying, at least a few traffic fatalities and injuries must be counted as among the costs of Covid mandates.)