The CDC Director’s Slippery Response to Criticism of School Mask Mandates Further Undermines Her Agency’s Credibility

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should allow Americans to rely upon them for accurate and honest information on communicable diseases and strategies for fighting them. CDC Director Rochellewalensky proved herself to be untrustworthy during the COVID-19 epidemic. The latest example is Walensky’s slippery response to criticism of a study that she has repeatedly cited to justify the CDC’s controversial recommendation that K–12 schools require students to wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19.

That study, which the CDC published on September 24, looked at “school-associated COVID-19 outbreaks”—defined as two or more confirmed cases among students or staff members within a 14-day period—in two Arizona counties from July 15 through August 31. After adjusting for possible confounders, the researchers found that school-associated COVID-19 epidemics in schools which did not require a mask were about 3.5 times more likely than in schools that had one.

It was not possible to account for local vaccination rates, COVID-19 protections and mask mandates. It is impossible to determine the cause of the observed difference in the research because these variables were not considered.

Schools with early mask requirements were likely to have been located in areas with high vaccine rates. They were also more likely to use other preventative measures, like better ventilation or physical distancing. These could explain why schools mandating masks reported fewer outbreaks. The researchers didn’t control these variables so their research cannot determine the role of mask mandates.

Published by in a 16 December article AtlanticDavid Zweig raised these concerns and other issues with the study. Zweig also noted a bias in testing “close contacts” for infection rate, the selection of outbreaks over rates of disease as an outcome variable, and that certain schools were closed twice as often as others throughout the study. Zweig said that scientists interviewed believed the effect to be large and contradictory with research on masking. Noah Haber (postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Meta-Research Innovation Center) described the Arizona study, which he co-authored, as being “so inconsistent that it probably shouldn’t have been included into the public discussion.”

Walensky nevertheless latched on to the study as validation of the CDC’s support for “universal masking” in K–12 schools. The following is an excerpt from a Face the NationTwo days later, interview with her. She stated it was “demonstrating that places which had never been studied did not have any.” [mask mandates]Places that had outbreaks were 3 and 1/2 times more likely than those without. [mask mandates]”In place.” Two days later, during a briefing at the White House she stated that “jurisdictions had masking.” [requirements] early in their school year…were three and a half times less likely to have outbreaks.” The following is a tweetIn the afternoon she stated that Arizona’s data was “In “Preventing” you can reinforce the advantages of masks #COVID19Schools are at risk of becoming infected. She reiterated the fact that schools without masks are three-and-a-half times more likely to be affected by a COVID-19 epidemic than those that have them.[d] masks.”

Last week Walensky took viewer questions during a Fox News segment. Dave Joyce observed that you have repeatedly cited one Arizona study as a reason for school mask mandates. Yet, there is reporting. AtlanticThis shows the flaws in the study. You will follow science, stop using flawed research and remove school mask mandates.

Walensky, who heavily relied on the Arizona study for her research, did not mention, much less rebut the points of Zweig or other experts. This is what she stated instead:

Study after study has been done in this country and in other countries to show that schools can be kept safe by using layered prevention strategies. My opinion is that there are vaccines that can be given to children older than 5 years. I encourage parents and guardians to get their kids vaccinated. It is important that schools remain open. We need to make sure that we do not use vaccines that are too expensive. The best prevention strategy for that purpose is to employ multilayered strategies. These include vaccinating both children and adults and continuing to prevent transmission, especially in light of the very serious transmissible micron variant.

Walensky is referring to “layered prevention strategies”, not mask mandates. This is because most of her research did not seek to quantify the effect of mask regulations. The studies didn’t even attempt to compare schools that had mask requirements with schools without. In the sense of low infection rates, schools that had “layered prevention strategies” were able to “safely” open again. They were successful. Notshow and their design It was impossiblea demonstration that any specific safeguard or masking was not used necessaryFor schools to be “safely” closed.

When it first issued its guidance for schools, the CDC’s best attempt at a more rigorous analysis was a large study of Georgia schools published in May, which found no statistically significant evidence that requiring students to wear masks reduced infection rates, even before vaccines were widely available. In a preprint study posted the same month, Brown University economist Emily Oster and four other researchers analyzed COVID-19 data from Florida, New York, and Massachusetts for the 2020–21 school year. They reported that they did not see any correlations between mask mandates. However, they did note that rates “are all the same.” [were]Lower in the spring after teacher vaccination [was] underway.”

In short, the CDC decided to recommend “universal masking” of K–12 students without any solid evidence that the policy had an important impact on COVID-19 transmission, let alone that its benefits outweighed the substantial burdens it imposes. Now, the CDC wants to validate their decision retroactively by citing later research that is still far from conclusive.

School districts who still need masking can rely on the CDC for their advice. Biden’s administration is also arguing that the deviation from agency advice is unwise and illegal. Both believe that the CDC will fairly evaluate the scientific evidence. This issue was handled by the agency, as well as its other mistakes, misstatements and poorly justified reversals.