Abolish the CDC
“You do you.” That would be my three-word summary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance for people who catch Covid. The latest advice is a response to a backlash that followed its recent decision to cut its recommended isolation time from ten to five days and advise that if you’re asymptomatic you don’t need a negative test to leave quarantine.
The CDC flip-flop is yet another reminder that the agency is hardly involved in a dispassionate issuance of “the science.” The new guidance is little more than a sop to the Covid-cautious. It’s also a perfect example of the organization’s inability to provide Americans with the clear, straightforward guidance that they need.
According to the new advice, anyone who tests positive should isolate for five days. After five days, anyone who wants to take a test should do so, and if they still test positive should isolate for another five days. If you don’t choose to test again, you should be careful, not travel, maybe not go to restaurants and so on. “You should probably not visit grandma,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Monday.
Like I said, you do you.
This move — the policy equivalent of a shrug — is another sign that, at least politically, we’re reaching the endgame of the pandemic. As is the news, reported by Politico, that “health officials inside and outside [the Biden] administration privately acknowledge that there’s little new left for the federal government to do but hold on and hope the worst is over soon.”
The CDC guidance update coincides with confirmation that more Americans have died of Covid under Joe Biden than Donald Trump, a reminder (not that one was necessarily needed) that the US pandemic response has been a bipartisan failing.
In the grand scheme of things, the CDC’s fuzzy guidance is only a minor failing in a long lists of pandemic slip-ups, not least because of how little credibility the agency has left. The CDC’s more serious crimes include its early testing blunder, when it eschewed the private sector, insisted on the in-house production of tests and then failed to produce a viable product. The CDC has also been consistently terrible at collecting data relating to the pandemic.
The agency famously botched early guidance on mask-wearing. Perhaps more shockingly, it’s still steering people away from the most protective masks and towards far less effective cloth alternatives. At present, their website reads: “DO NOT choose masks that are specially labelled ‘surgical’ N95 respirators, as those should be prioritized for healthcare personnel.”
There are more failings, too numerous to list in full here. Notably, every book-length assessment of America’s pandemic response I have come across has been scathing about the agency.
It isn’t just the CDC, of course. The FDA deserves its share of the blame, especially when it comes to sluggishness in approving various pandemic-fighting tools, from tests to antivirals. But given that the CDC is the agency most directly focused on pandemics, its failings are more striking.
I understand Covid fatigue, and a reluctance to engage in pandemic politics any further, but now would seem like a good time to reconsider the American state’s disease-fighting toolkit. And that process should arguably start with a blank sheet of paper. In other words, it might be time to rip it up and start again.
Here’s an idea that might actually have support from both sides of the aisle: abolish the CDC. Replace it with an organization designed to act swiftly, give clear advice and report to policymakers the latest science and data. That body should do so with an impartiality and epistemological humility that most public health officials have lacked in the last few years.
Not everyone got Eric Adams’s crime-fighting memo
The triumph of Eric Adams, the former cop who was elected mayor of New York on a moderate crime-fighting message last November, was a welcome development for anyone worried about the future of America’s most important city. But even as New York voters opted for a centrist over progressive alternatives in the mayoral contest, the same cannot be said for other important elected positions.
Take Alvin Bragg, the freshly sworn in Manhattan District Attorney. Faced with rising violent crime rates, he appears to want to take a very different approach than Adams. In a memo to staff on his first day in the job, Bragg said his office “will not seek a carceral sentence” except for homicides and a handful of other cases. He also listed a number of other areas where he and his team will pursue an approach favored by the progressive criminal justice reform crowd.
The memo is a sobering reminder of the uphill battle that Adams faces if he is to turn his city around. His election may have been a sign that the Defund the Police fever has broken, and that at least some Democrats are willing to take seriously the problem of violent crime. But the progressive crowd still has plenty of sway, and Adams must pull off a difficult balancing act in keeping the likes of Bragg onside while pursuing the crime crackdown he knows New York needs.
America is moving again…except in Virginia
Kamala Harris — or whoever manages her Twitter account — put on an impressive display of inadvertent comic timing on Tuesday. In a message that could have been generated by an AI bot trained to produce platitudinous political slogans, Harris tweeted: “Because of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, America is moving again. That’s what infrastructure is all about: getting people moving.” The slight problem with this message was what was happening only a few miles away, where the Virginia stretch of I-95 was the scene of a snow-day snafu. Icy conditions and a seeming failure by the Virginia Department of Transportation to salt the interstate, left many — including Senator Tim Kaine — stranded on the road for more than 24 hours.
Trump cancels his January 6 press conference
Can you hear that noise? It’s sighs of relief from Republicans across Washington as they learn that Donald Trump has canceled his January 6 press conference he had planned to coincide with the first anniversary of the Capitol Hill riot.
“In light of the total bias and dishonesty of the January 6th Unselect Committee of Democrats, two failed Republicans, and the Fake News Media, I am canceling the January 6th Press Conference at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday,” the former president said in a statement.
Lindsay Graham is claiming credit for the cancelation. The chameleonic South Carolina senator told Axios that he and Trump discussed the issue over golf this weekend and claims he warned that “there could be peril in doing a news conference. …Best to focus on election reform instead.”
What you should be reading today
President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 42.3 percent
Disapprove: 53.9 percent
Net approval: -11.6 (RCP Average)
Direction of the country
America is heading in the right direction: 30 percent
America is heading in the wrong direction: 70 percent (CNBC/Change Research)