The CDC has been urging the public to “follow the science” for the better part of the last 18 months. But in order for the public to grab hold of this idea, they must be able to trust the science.
At a recent White House press briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, reported data stating that “less than 10 percent of documented transmission, in many studies, have occurred outdoors.”
This was followed by guidance that those who are not vaccinated should continue to wear masks outdoors including in small gatherings.
David Leonhardt, New York Times journalist, investigated these claims made late last week. He spoke with Dr. Muge Cevik, infectious disease researcher and virologist at University of St. Andrews, who said that the number “seems to be a huge exaggeration.”
“In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me,” says Leonhardt.
Leonhardt hammered down on some major issues with the CDC’s methods of data collection, including how they classified environments as “outdoors” versus “indoors”. One of the many cases contributing to these environmental misclassifications that Leonhardt investigated was the data reported from Singapore. “Construction sites, workplace, health care, education, social events, travel, catering, leisure and shopping” were all classified in the outdoor category.
In what was clearly a cautious overstatement by the CDC, the exaggerated calculation has raised concerns among the general population. If people can’t trust the numbers that the CDC reports, how are they suppose to be expected to faithfully follow their guidelines?
The CDC responded to Leonhardt’s investigation acknowledging the “limited” data available related to outdoor transmission.
“10 percent is a conservative estimate from a recent systematic review of peer-reviewed papers,” a CDC official told the Times. “CDC cannot provide the specific risk level for every activity in every community and errs on the side of protection when it comes to recommending steps to protect health. It is important for people and communities to consider their own situations and risks and to take appropriate steps to protect their health.”