CDC mask guidance confuses even experts – fr

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CDC mask guidance confuses even experts – fr


Do not wear a mask. Wear a mask. In fact, wear two masks. Now take off your masks (once you’ve taken your photos). Keep the mask on, though, if you’re in the stores – well, some of them.

The CDC’s latest change in guidelines, announcing that vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most places, has led governors to complain, scientists disgruntled and people confused.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, defended the new guidelines, saying the agency “was just following the science.” The goal, she said, was to make it clear that vaccines were effective and, against a backdrop of declining vaccination rates, to convince more people to get vaccinated.

But health communication experts who spoke to BuzzFeed News said, even armed with new data, the way the CDC announced the change went against everything that was known about how to clearly inform the public. Governors, and even the White House, were given little notice to prepare for a change that left store owners, parents of unvaccinated children, and people with weakened immune systems, relying on the honesty of ‘strangers to say who is vaccinated or not. In response, some states ignored the guidelines, setting their own criteria to relax masking requirements.

Still recovering from its reputation for political interference under the Trump administration and continuing to tackle rampant disinformation about COVID-19, the CDC abruptly releasing the new guidelines has undermined public confidence not only in masks but in public health advice in general, experts have warned.

“It’s not simple. There isn’t just one way to send public health messages – but there are better ways than this, ”said Elisia Cohen, health communication expert, University of Minnesota. .

For starters, the CDC’s shift in focus came without the warm-up that the public needs to understand the changes in public health advisories. News of the change aired for three minutes from one of the White House’s bi-monthly COVID-19 updates. Walensky went through the results of two new studies showing vaccines were effective against the variants, then announced the change: “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or taking drugs. physical distance. “

One problem: The public, unlike the CDC, is not privy to every incremental science update, said Rebekah Nagler, also a health communications researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The public may find it difficult to come to terms with and make sense of seemingly conflicting research results, or seemingly ever-changing advice, but an organization like CDC doesn’t anticipate that,” Nagler said. “I think in this case, he just doesn’t think about what people were thinking.”

Sudden changes in advice are simply crossing people’s threads without warning, said Matthew Seeger, health and risk communication researcher at Wayne State University. You have to carefully prepare the ground before you change direction so that people can understand where it is coming from.

“We spent a year trying very hard to get people to wear masks,” Seeger said. “This kind of sudden, abrupt change, with no sign of its coming, will leave people blind.”

Another oversight was that the guidelines were aimed at vaccinated people – but unvaccinated people could walk away with the same take-out. The population-specific recommendations might work for the agency’s announcements aimed at healthcare professionals, Cohen said, “But changes [pandemic] the councils are going to be consulted by everyone, vaccinated or not, and they will ask: “What does this mean to me?”. , may end up feeling looked down upon.

The CDC’s change in tone was also jarring as it shifted from a past focus on protecting others to a new focus on personal freedom, Cohen said. “There was no clue as to what everyone should be doing or what our responsibilities are to others.”

In general, people treat health advice as a story they tell themselves about their lives, she added, and not as a cost-benefit calculation based on the latest studies or the latest case numbers. .

“When you have a source that gives you conflicting information or changes focus over time, it’s harder for you to be relied on as a trustworthy source,” Cohen said. “People say, ‘I’m having a hard time keeping the story fair.’” The real concern is that rather than going to their doctor to resolve the confusion, people might just dismiss the health advice altogether.

Lawmakers raised this concern with Walensky on Wednesday morning during his Senate testimony on the CDC’s budget. “There is too much going on for families to think, in the first place, that their child is safe,” said West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, adding that the advice could inadvertently lead to more. of people ignoring calls for the vaccine.

Faced with this confusion, governors have set tough dates, such as June 15 for California, or firm numbers, such as a 70% vaccinated population in Washington state, as a threshold to ease restrictions. New York, which changed its guidelines to match those of the CDC, requires proof of vaccination for people in certain locations.

And some state officials – including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom – have even suggested that the CDC’s change led to an immediate drop in all vaccinations.

In the public comments, Walensky went on to say that the agency prioritized science for providing advice. But the CDC may be right about the science and still wrong about the communication, said Cynthia Baur, health literacy researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland and a 20-year veteran of federal health agencies. , including the CDC. Normally, the new guidelines are extensively cross-checked with other agencies (such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which works on guiding masks for companies) and state that the messages work, a she said, not just distributed without consultation during briefings.

“Even though the White House offers more space for CDC independence, it is hard to believe that such a large set of scientific recommendations with major policy implications have not been reviewed and endorsed by other agencies “Said Baur. “The White House and the CDC both have experienced communications professionals, at least some of whom would have anticipated a flashback and advised against the way the CDC handled the announcement. “

This decision is particularly puzzling, Seeger said, as the agency’s own advice, some of which he helped drafting, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of shaping health messages as they arise. policies are developed, not to propose a policy first and public communications thereafter.

“One thing I will say is that the credibility of the CDC has been damaged here, which is very sad to say and I say it with a lot of reluctance. But their ability to be persuasive has been reduced, ”Seeger said. “It seemed brutal and not fully grounded in the reality that many people are going through.”

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