I Warned About the COVID and Now I Feel Like
Dr. Anthony Fauci (L), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks next to Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx, during a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards D-LA in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 29, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been described as a so-called “COVID warrior,” which makes some sense. After all, I’ve defended the shutdowns of large gatherings. I’ve insisted that it’s wise to temporarily close churches and postpone funerals and other ceremonies. I’ve argued that extreme caution is necessary—that to do anything else would be to blatantly and selfishly ignore the scientific information at our disposal. I’ve held the opinion that, although it has caused irrevocable harm to the economy and caused millions of people to suffer, business owners who close up shop for fear of spreading contagion are in the right.
Now I feel like a fool.
By no means am I a coronavirus denier—more than 100,000 and counting have died from the COVID. But with conflicting reports about everything from wearing masks to the spread of the virus through surfaces coming out of the World Health Organization and the CDC almost weekly, my head is spinning. Nothing seems to make sense anymore.
For fear of spreading the virus, health experts have consistently recommended shutting down and avoiding public spaces, including schools, playgrounds, public pools, and public transportation. They’ve also advocated for limiting large gatherings and closing anything that might draw crowds. It’s advice that’s been repeated for months—to the point that those ignoring it have been reviled and accused of experimenting with “human sacrifice.”
That’s because asymptomatic carriers of the virus, though they may feel all right themselves, can become mass spreaders of the deadly contagion, especially in large groups. This is why Michigan residents protesting their state’s lockdown in Lansing were deserving of shame—they likely caused mass immiseration and sickness, right?
Wrong. Turns out, health officials didn’t really believe any of that.
Just last week, the WHO announced that it’s extremely rare for asymptomatic spreading of the coronavirus to occur. If you feel fine, then you’re probably not a grave threat to anyone, especially if you’re wearing a mask and gloves. Then the WHO backtracked on that statement, ultimately arriving at the completely unhelpful determination that “this is a major unknown.” Health experts simply don’t know to what extent the disease is transmitted by asymptomatic carriers—yet they still feel confident that the risks of the coronavirus shouldn’t impact our protesting of police brutality.
One rightly wonders how, within a span of weeks, we went from shaming people for being out in the streets to shaming those who won’t join the crowd.
What’s more, contact with infected animals and surfaces is unlikely to cause COVID-19 to spread, and chlorine kills the virus upon contact, so clean pools are also safe. But of course, many schools, playgrounds, pools, and businesses were forced to close.
Livelihoods have been destroyed, children are paying a high price through a loss of time and key social-educational development, and mental health across the country is on the decline.
And now some journalists from prominent publications—the same ones that have been demanding oh-so-extreme caution—are performing breathtaking gymnastics in an effort to backtrack, explaining that there’s no evidence of outdoor coronavirus spread. Now, it’s “prolonged indoor close contact” that we have to worry about.
They may be right. Maybe protesters really shouldn’t worry (though they probably should). But that doesn’t excuse what seems to be a disgusting hypocrisy that trampled on the livelihoods of more than 30 million Americans. Understandably, many are outraged and have lost all faith in the experts.
Health advice can’t shift with politics—COVID-19, cancer, and the flu don’t know party lines. The virus is either unmanageable or manageable. That’s it.
Now, with Trump aiming to restart his so-called “MAGA rallies,” we’ll inevitably have—and already have had—another round of tut-tutting from the media about how horribly irresponsible it is to gather in crowds. But who can possibly blame those who shrug these warnings off? MAGA rallies very well could spread COVID-19, but in the event they do, the George Floyd protests will be equally culpable. Expert credibility has been lost.
Maybe we should, as many of my more classically liberal friends have been saying all along, allow people to make their own choices, take their own risks, open their own businesses back up, hold their own protests against injustice.
Whatever the case, given the whiplash the public has experienced over these past few weeks, we certainly won’t be running to health experts as readily as before. Certainly, social distancing practices have helped flatten the curve, but living your life based on the inconsistent messaging of the WHO and the CDC is a recipe for disaster. If a second wave does appear, it will be cautious individuals and community innovation that provides the solutions—not those who have done nothing to earn our trust.
Anthony DiMauro is a freelance writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in The National Interest, Real Clear Media, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyMDiMauro.