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Pandemic policy should be based on new data not outdated media outrage

After nearly a year since COVID-19 started its sweep through the US, the frantic media reports from that time period still seem ingrained in the public psyche, and dictate activity today.

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Nicole Russell Texas US
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The Washington Post reported that the "CDC finds scant spread of coronavirus in schools with precautions in place." According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "in-person learning at schools has resulted in "little evidence" of COVID-19 transmission, especially when safety protocols like mask-wearing and distancing are enforced and other measures in the community to slow the spread are taken."

This is welcome news, of course, but it's not exactly brand new news. Since the summer, similar reports have been released—that children rarely transmit COVID-19, that it was safe for kids to learn in-person, and that the only safety precautions necessary are social distancing and mask-wearing.

The CDC has been recommending in-person school for kids for months. Still, new data often fails to influence intractable teachers unions, school administrators or elected officials toward making significant changes to the status quo established when the pandemic first began. After nearly a year since COVID-19 started its sweep through the US, the frantic media reports from that time period still seem ingrained in the public psyche, and dictate activity today.

There are multiple examples of this. During the beginning months, manufacturing a vaccine was the Holy Grail of the pandemic: to get it was to find life and end all suffering; it was the key to developing herd immunity. Now, we have not one but two vaccines and multiple, qualified distributors. Vaccinating everyone is a difficult process but at least it's begun and in record time.

Still, some groups, like the Teacher's Union in Fairfax County, Virginia, have refused to reopen schools for in-person teaching even if they have the vaccine. Why? Either they're selfish or they're ignorant. If the latter, you can blame the constant media hype, which imparted to worried Americans from the beginning that people that life would need to revolve around this virus and the only acceptable state of being was fear.

Here's another example: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has lifted stay-at-home orders for all regions of the state including hard-hit areas like Southern California. While residents are undoubtedly relieved, some are calling into question the timing, as some publications reported ICU beds in some areas were full as of a few weeks ago.

Critics are suggesting Newsom lifted the order in response to a growing petition to recall the governor via a statewide ballot measure. Regardless, if the spread of COVID was truly a concern and lockdowns really worked, wouldn't they continue? Yet, on the other hand, if they weren't very effective, wouldn't leadership have willingly opened the state up?

Twitter user Chef Gruel makes another excellent point: While mitigation—slowing the spread—was the goal, essential businesses have been packed to the gills while in operation, demonstrating lockdowns were selective, arbitrary, and the goalposts have often been moved. Still, the selling point to the public is always the same and it's based on information from the beginning of the pandemic, not new information released since then.

California isn't the only example of COVID measures that seem to be a bit too arbitrary for some people's logic—and a bit too sensationalized in the news. Go to any restaurant, hotel, daycare, or doctor's office—staff and sign postings will reassure incoming patrons that surfaces are being wiped down, linens are cleaned more than normal, and everyone is sanitizing their hands and wearing masks. What? Why?

At the beginning, few understood how COVID-19 spread. So people were getting groceries and arduously wiping them down. CNN posted this detailed how-to video in April 2020. Schools and daycares were closed, in part, because no one could fathom the gargantuan task of keeping such a facility clean all day with hundreds of tiny fingers touching everything.  

However, we've known for months that scientific data shows COVID-19 isn't really transmitted through surfaces, it's mostly transmitted through person to person contact with an infected person's droplets. Really. Yet staff at restaurants, hotels, and the like are still rigorously cleaning surfaces like their lives depend upon it, and they don't.

The beginning months of the pandemic were difficult. It was hard for everyone to understand how this virus operated and how much to fear. The mainstream media did not have an easy task but their burden of responsibility is great. It's never been more clear than it is now, when after months and months of new information or dispelling old myths, people cling to the things first reported when the pandemic began, no matter how untrue they are now.


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