As someone pointed out earlier this week, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only been a public health crisis, it has also been an ongoing communication crisis with confusing mixed messaging and ever-changing guidelines.
Already with more than 5.4 million deaths worldwide, the rate at which the virus is spreading is simply outpacing science and viral experts everywhere are left scrambling to show a united front on the best way to react.
At the forefront of the scrambling are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
From the outset of the pandemic, the three organizations have battled one another (inadvertently or otherwise) on nearly every front and often have had varying opinions about even the most basic guidelines including wearing masks, social distancing, and, most recently, the length of time for quarantining yourself after possible exposure to the virus.
While it’s important for these organizations to keep mandates and best practices updated and current, the manner in which they seem to continually change (and sometimes reverse) their own recommendations only breeds more distrust and frustration–which is the last thing any of those organizations want to do.
Just last week, the CDC said that the Omicron variant accounted for approximately 73 percent of variants circulating in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 18. But this week, they said that number was actually closer to 23 percent.
Experts have indicated they’re not surprised by the revisions, given that the CDC’s estimates are simply “rough guesses.” As the New York Times pointed out, Omicron cases can only be confirmed by genetic sequencing, which is performed on just a portion of samples across the country.
On Monday, the CDC slashed its previous recommended isolation period from 10 days to five days for those who test positive, but show no symptoms.
Dr. Jerome Adams, who served as the U.S. surgeon general under former President Donald Trump, wrote on Twitter the following day that while he respected the CDC, he disagreed with its decision on isolation periods.
Dr. Adams, who was – for the most part – a calming voice of reason in the otherwise chaotic Trump administration, outright said he would advise people NOT to follow their guidance.
David O’Connor, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said he thought the initial estimate “seemed high,” but noted that the agency based their initial figures on a “relatively small number of sequences.”
Dr. O’Connor compared it to playing Name That Tune, and trying to say – based on the first note – if the song is ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice or ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen.
“Without more data, it can be really hard to know which one it’s going to be,” he said.
The resulting confusion not only diminishes the CDC’s credibility and further fuels the spread of misinformation, but it also is simply bad public relations.
Any PR expert would tell you that releasing no information is better than releasing false information. They’d also tell you there’s nothing worse than releasing no information.
We don’t have the silver bullet answer on this one, but clearly neither does anyone else. At the end of the day, we still recommend you listen closely to the CDC, the WHO, and the FDA. But we also suggest you do like us and err on the side of caution every chance you get.
Like Grandma used to say: it’s better to be safe than sorry.