For decades, academic public health experts warned that the organization of our federal public health institutions could not support a rapid response to an infectious disease outbreak. SARS2/COVID19 proved them right. The lack of robust testing capacity and disease treatment modalities early in the pandemic greatly exacerbated the death toll. Researching the anti-viral efficacy of existing pharmaceuticals, like the ritonavir originally developed for AIDS treatment now included in Paxlovid, and immediate NIH funding for new drug research should have advanced along with vaccine development. These are lessons learned from the HIV pandemic which suffered from the lack of treatments for those dying of AIDS while the emphasis was on vaccine development.
Confusing messaging from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the White House COVID19 response team has contributed to the profoundly negative societal impact, especially for our children and their families. When the 6 foot distancing guidance was announced, which devastated businesses, social plans, health care, and school reopenings, I began to search for its basis. A literature search revealed no evidence of decreased spread of SARS2 infections using 6 foot distancing over 3 foot distancing. For the ensuing 25 months, I have regularly contacted the CDC to discover who, and on what basis, issued the 6 foot guidance. The CDC’s August 11, 2022, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), issued new COVID19 guidance that essentially rescinds most previous SARS2/COVID19 precautions and lists “physical distancing” as the 10th strategy for “persons at high risk for severe illness.”
One of the CDC authors responded to my question about schools:
“CDC has not recommended that schools use a 6 foot physical distance since February 2021, 18 months ago. Prior to that, CDC’s recommendation was that schools should physically distance students in areas of high transmission when feasible, but the agency updated school guidance in February based on several MMWRs and studies that showed a 6 foot distance is not necessary. None of CDC’s guidance for schools has included a recommendation to use physical distancing. CDC’s current guidance does not mention physical distancing at all (Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning | CDC).”
The CDC official has not revealed the source or basis for the original 6 foot distancing recommendation. It is critically important for all to review how that unsubstantiated suggestion early in the pandemic became such a strongly enforced, but mistaken, norm.
(Editor’s Note: Ann A. Kiessling, Ph.D., is an elected member of the Bedford Board of Health. She holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Biophysics.)