Executive pressure on CDC messaging: Failure of effective collaboration in school opening decisions

The federal government micromanaging the scientific messaging coming from the CDC is a real problem, as emphasized by the NY Times article today. There are other examples of this type of government interference in scientific messaging that I think is dangerous.

But more than that this story highlights the dysfunction in our society caused by the divisiveness and inability to consider alternative viewpoints and work collaboratively.

As I have said many times, including here and here, school reopening decisions are among the most difficult during this pandemic and is the trickiest balancing act with ditches on both sides. What was needed was a multidisciplinary collaborative approach, aggregating all available information and expert perspectives together and performing a cost benefit analysis, and assembling a multi-tiered plan with the ability to adapt to changing conditions and emerging knowledge. Instead each area seemed to default to following its political leanings — in general blue areas didn’t want to open schools even if conditions were reasonable to do so, and red areas pushed to open schools even if viral levels were high and not declining enough. Alarmists and Deniers and not much in the middle.

Some of the points pushed by the president’s team — the potential harm to children of not going back to school, the extremely low death rate from covid-19 in children, and the evidence that young children don’t spread as efficiently as adults are all legitimate points that need to be taken into account and weighted vs the risk of potentially sparking a surge in virus that would spread through the broader community if opening.

But rather than leaders pulling people together and objectively considering the facts on both sides, it seems we have retreated into our alarmist and denial echo chambers.

It is clear to me that the president’s team crossed a line it should not have crossed in trying to drive the message of the CDC. But at the same time, this shows the difficulty in our modern society to come together with alternative viewpoints, learn from each other, and come up with balanced solutions that consider all of the facts at hand.

That has to change.


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