Epidemiologists Still Urge Dubious Levels of Caution, Even for the Vaccinated

Most would still refuse a hug, according to a New York Times survey.


If you meet an epidemiologist on the street, don't try to hug them. Most are still unwilling to engage in normal pre-pandemic activities like eating at a restaurant, traveling by plane, or going back to the office, according to a survey in The New York Times.

While the framing of the article is cheery—"Epidemiologists are starting to hug again," it begins—the survey results actually suggest that supposed health experts continue to recommend a level of caution that is not supported by the science.

"Assuming nearly all are vaccinated by this point—which I assume is a fairly safe assumption (the survey is limited to the U.S.)—my takeaway is that epidemiologists are extremely risk-averse, much more so than public health guidelines say they need to be," wrote Nate Silver, a statistician and the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

People who are fully vaccinated are extremely unlikely to get sick and die from COVID-19, or transmit the disease to someone else. Yet a majority of the surveyed epidemiologists said they would not attend small indoor dinner parties, ride the subway, or take a vacation (even by car).

Courtesy of The New York Times

The Times also asked respondents to say how many vaccinated people could safely gather indoors. Some 37 percent thought these activities should be limited to people from just two households, 28 percent would allow up to five households, and just 22 percent thought there was no need for a limit at all if everyone was vaccinated.

And a whopping 25 percent of epidemiologists said the vaccinated should keep wearing masks while walking with a friend outside—an activity that is fairly safe even for the unvaccinated, and carries essentially zero risk for the vaccinated.

Courtesy of The New York Times (New York Times)

Again, The Times' framing is that epidemiologists have eased up slightly since they were last surveyed. But these responses reveal that many of the experts whose judgments guide official government policy are living in a fantasy land. Most people, for instance, have still been going to work for the entire pandemic; unlike many epidemiologists, they cannot and do not work from home.

Different people can practice different levels of caution. But at present, the most overly cautious people are the ones setting the rules for everybody else. People who are vaccinated should not wait for permission from epidemiologists to go for maskless walks with their friends. It's okay to hug again.