East Coasters in Texas experience safe, life-as-normal. Public health scolds should apologize

Cynthia M. Allen

By Cynthia M. Allen Fort Worth Star-Telegram/(TNS)

Published May 24, 2021

  East Coasters in Texas experience safe, life-as-normal. Public health scolds should apologize
FORT WORTH, Texas — My parents, visiting from the East Coast, were surprised (but not so disappointed) to arrive in Texas and find so many people not wearing masks and so few businesses requiring them.

They were less surprised to learn that despite nearly three months of living without state-mandated pandemic restrictions, the COVID-19 caseload is still receding. Texas never experienced the massive spike in infections and deaths that Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted and that President Joe Biden insisted would be the cost of such "Neanderthal thinking."

Indeed, Texas reported zero COVID deaths on May 16, and on Thursday, the lowest number of hospitalizations from the virus since the first week of June 2020, quite a victory for a state that's home to some 30 million people.

(According to the latest data from The New York Times, Pennsylvania, my parents' home, reported 66 deaths on May 16. And the state's mask mandate is still in place.)

Maybe Abbott was lucky.

Or, given what we are learning about COVID mandates’ inconsistent outcomes, maybe he was right.

Whatever the case, he deserves an apology.

It might be edifying to have the president and the nation's preeminent infectious disease expert admit not just that Texas' successful reopening was "confusing," as Fauci begrudgingly allowed, but that their verbal assaults on its governor's decision proved to be totally wrong. But the lost opportunity to say "I told you so" isn't the great cost here.

The real loss is in public trust of institutions and leaders, beginning with the public health establishment.

In fairness, public trust began eroding long before national leaders began pillorying Texas for allowing its residents to decide for themselves when and if to go maskless.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, health and political officials (because sometimes the two converge) have squandered public confidence by giving them incomplete and sometimes completely inaccurate information.

No one should forget how, early on, Fauci and other health experts, spent weeks telling us that masks were useless, not because that's what they believed, but because they wanted to be sure there were enough available for medical personnel.

Months later, when masks were plentiful, Fauci began recommending "double masking" and scolding those who remained skeptical of their efficacy. I can't imagine why they would be.

More recently, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, testifying before the Senate, emotionally defended her agency's guidance for summer camps (which includes almost universal outdoor masking) using a wildly inaccurate description of the frequency with which COVID is spread outdoors. She referred to a single study that said "less than 10 percent" of transmissions occurred outdoors.

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One of the study's authors quickly clarified that the likelihood of outdoor transmission is "still substantially less than 1 percent." Yet with the school year about to end, the CDC's camp guidance still requires masks for unvaccinated campers, most of whom aren't even eligible for the shots.

And while the origins of COVID remain unknown, detailed reporting that suggested a possible lab mistake in China was for months ignored or besmirched as racist and absurd by public health officials (among others). The only apparent reasons is that the origin story was associated with Donald Trump, who admittedly isn't the soul of credibility.

But a renewed interest in the lab leak theory is finally so prominent (and distanced enough from the Trump era) that Biden has ordered his administration to further investigate.

In fairness, every public-policy maker during the pandemic deserves a modicum of grace, especially for decisions made early on when so much was unknown.

But at this stage, our leaders know a lot about what will serve the public good and what further erodes the public trust.

Admitting when they have erred or miscalculated would help to start rebuilding that trust.

Apologizing to Abbott would be a good place to start.


Cynthia M. Allen
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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