NY Times Analysis Shows Overcautious CDC Causing Confusion

NY Times Analysis Shows Overcautious CDC Causing Confusion man wearing mask walks by nyse A man wearing a mask passes the New York Stock Exchange in New York. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

By Brian Freeman | Tuesday, 11 May 2021 11:33 AM

The New York Times has done an analysis on what it says is a misleading statistic released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ramifications of the distribution of such information.

At issue is the CDC's announcement last month that "less than 10%" of COVID-19 transmission was occurring outdoors, a percentage that quickly caught on.

The Times equated it to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers worldwide annually, when the actual number is about 150, calling it "both true and deceiving."

Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews said the CDC's benchmark "seems to be a huge exaggeration," explaining that the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors appears to be below 1%, with other experts saying it might even be below 0.1%.

Experts emphasize that even these rare outdoor transmissions all apparently involved crowded places or close conversation, and not just casually walking around on the street or in a park.

But the CDC continues to insist that, for example, summer camps should require children to wear masks almost all the time, even for outdoor activities.

By choosing such an extremely cautious percentage, the Times suggests that the CDC is "struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what's truly risky," adding that many Americans are bewildered by the agency's long list of recommendations.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that the CDC arrived at the inflated 10% number, according to the analysis, by misinterpreting data that showed transmissions were outside when they were almost assuredly actually inside.

This misinterpretation skewed the percentages to the relatively high 10%, while correcting those exaggerations pulls the numbers down to miniscule percentages.

The Times says that erring on the side of protection, which sometimes might have a purpose, in this case "has contributed to widespread public confusion about what really matters. Some Americans are ignoring the CDC's elaborate guidelines" and not wearing masks, even indoors, while others continue to harass those who are outside without a mask.

But the Times insists that "the scientific evidence points to a conclusion that is much simpler than the CDC's message: Masks make a huge difference indoors and rarely matter outdoors."