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Sen. Collins slams CDC for ‘confusing, conflicting guidance’

Maine Sen. Susan Collins grilled US CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Tuesday during a Senate Health Committee hearing where the agency was providing an update to federal officials on its efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Collins questioned Walensky on the agency’s “conflicting, confusing guidance” on school reopenings, outdoor transmission and mask wearing, and rules for summer camps. Watch a clip of the exchange below.

A report published earlier this month in the New York Post revealed emails between the CDC and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) where recommendations from the union made their way into the official CDC guidance documents verbatim.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco called the exchange “very, very troubling.”

“What seems strange to me here is there would be this very intimate back and forth including phone calls where this political group gets to help formulate scientific guidance for our major public health organization in the United States,” Ghandi told The Post. “This is not how science-based guidelines should work or be put together.”

The New York Times on Tuesday published a report from David Leonhardt that questioned the CDC’s recent guidance on mask wearing outdoors. Upon releasing the new guidelines in April, the agency announced that “less than 10 percent” of COVID-19 transmission was occurring outdoors.

According to the report, the 10 percent figure is “almost certainly misleading.” A review of the data by the Times found that certain cases in the study were misclassified as outdoor transmission and quoted numerous experts who contend the share of cases linked to the outdoors is less than 1 percent, and could be as low as 0.1 percent.

“I’m sure it’s possible for transmission to occur outdoors in the right circumstances,” Dr. Aaron Rictherman of the University of Pennsylvania told the Times, “but if we had to put a number on it, I would say much less than 1 percent.”

As noted in the report, the CDC’s newest guidance on summer camps says these facilities should require mask wearing “at all times” with few exceptions. Considering the low rate of outdoor transmission and the fact that many summer camp activities take place outside, it seems unnecessary to have hordes of children playing outside with masks on.

“Dr. Walensky, I used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC. I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,” Collins said Tuesday during the hearing.

“Here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does it matter? It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendations,” Collins said.

Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons