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

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.

NEXT: A Supreme Court Decision That Did Lasting Damage to the 4th Amendment

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If you meet an epidemiologist on the street, don’t try to hug them.

    I’d be more inclinded to wrap my hands around their neck and squeeze really hard.

    1. +1

    2. There is an expression used here in Texas, “hug your neck”, that I have not encountered previously. My wife grew up in Louisiana and says she is familiar with it, so it may a general southern thing.

      I wasn’t that fond of it before, but if I were to meet an epidemiologist in a dark alley, I could fully embrace it.

  2. If you are still scared, place two (not one but TWO) plastic bags over your head. Seal the opening so that no virus particles can enter. Voila!

    1. JFree hardest hit.

  3. An epidemiologist sees a 1% fatality rate and extrapolates to 3.5M dead people. “Oh shit, don’t touch me.”

    A layman sees a 1% fatality rate and says, “not my problem.”

    These are both rational responses.

    1. An epidemiologist sees a 1% fatality rate and extrapolates to 3.5M dead people. “Oh shit, don’t touch me.” “I need to put in for a government-funded research grant!”

      A layman sees a 1% fatality rate and says, “not my problem.” some government asshole is going to take money from me for this.

      Both still accurate.

      1. >“I need to put in for a government-funded research grant!”

        Well, yeah. That’s their job.

        Ford has a continual improvement process where they are constantly looking for 1% improvements in mpg, etc. From an epidemiology perspective, a 100% fatality for 3M is the same as a 1% fatality for 300M.

    2. Epidemiologists are gonna epidemiologize. They should not be making government decisions. They should be one advisory input to government decision makers, with economists, psychologists, civil libertarians and others also being advisory inputs.

      1. The bulwark against government overreach was supposed to be the courts. But, in deciding the Constitution is not a suicide pact, the courts decided it was not really an enforceable contract at all.

      2. I understand where their coming from. I handle network security, and if I was required to prevent all risk and had complete control, their computers would be nothing more than fancy typewriters. Luckily, that isnt the case.

        Preventing all risk is impossible and nobody cast a single vote for these experts. These people need to chill the fuck out and leave us alone.

  4. Are we supposed to mimic these mentally ill people?

    1. What I want to know is how many epidemiologists went to church before the pandemic. The number willing to go now is probably no different to those willing to go before.

  5. “Most people, for instance, have still been going to work for the entire pandemic”

    Of course they have, life went on anyway despite attempts to control and corral us. That is why after 1 year ago I completely stopped listening to any experts or mass media hyperventilating on this subject because it was obvious they were full of shit (and their actions obviously said they didn’t care to follow their own rules)

  6. >>If you meet an epidemiologist on the street

    violate NAP

  7. Only 6% say they have recently “attended a sporting event, concert or play”. But come on – they’re epidemiologists. How often do they do those things in the best of times? Joking aside, the methodology of this survey sucks. Without a pre-pandemic baseline, it’s not valid for making any of the points alleged in the article.

    And that’s before you get to the problems of the cognitive biases inherent to such occupations. Insurance people – who have the best available data about actual property/casualty risks – regularly overvalue insurance. Police – who have the best available data about crime rates – regularly overestimate the probabilities of those crimes actually occurring. Epidemiologists are some of the last people I’d ask for touchy-feely opinions about “would you do x”.

    1. I haven’t attended any events either. But that’s just because I cannot relax and have a good time while wearing a mask.

      1. I haven’t attended any events because there haven’t been any. But seriously, I take it a little further than you. I cannot relax and have a good time if a significant number of people, not even a majority, are wearing masks. I don’t even want to look at the damned things.

    2. Fauci attended a baseball game. Something about only the catcher needed to wear a mask.

      1. Yeah, well the noose is tightening on that a-hole. This guy was at the forefront of supporting GoF research on coronaviruses, and all that info is starting to dribble out now.

  8. Considering how wrong Epidemiologist have been on almost everything I have no reason to listen to anything they say.

  9. I don’t see protesting injustice on that list.

  10. I’ve heard anecdotally that a lot of epidemiologists and infectious disease experts were germophobes even before covid. It’s still as weird and pathological as it ever was.

    1. Sounds similar to the observation that most psych majors are trying to figure themselves out…

  11. I celebrated my grandmother’s 2 week anniversary of her 2nd vaccine by hugging her and taking her out to lunch at a restaurant with a, so covered it might as well be inside, patio.

    Your risk from COVID post-vaccination is no greater than your risk from the flu post-vaccination. Once you are vaccinated, COVID shouldn’t be a consideration anymore. We don’t need epidemiologists acting like the vaccine doesn’t work, when they clearly do. I can sort of understand wearing a mask in public solely because you can’t tell who is or is not vaccinated. But avoiding visiting older relatives after they have been vaccinated is ridiculously conservative. Avoiding visiting them after you have been vaccinated as well is practically anti-VAX.

    1. To clarify: I don’t mean that vaccinated people have anything to fear from unvaccinated, unmasked people. Just that a policy of only unvaccinated people must mask won’t work, because people will lie.

      Whether such a policy is a good one is arguable, though I understand why epidemiologists would favor it. As opposed to vaccinated people refusing to visit vaccinated relatives. That is total nonsense.

  12. All for a disease with an average 99.95% recovery rate…

    1. I don’t think the recovery rate is that high for the US as a whole. Close to 0.2% of the US population has died of it and presumably less than 100% of the population has been infected.

      1. With, not of.

        Did you even bother toe order why the death rate for covid for over 70 aligns with the natural death rates of death for that cohort at about 13%?

        Numbers aren’t independent and additive.

        Last numbers I saw gad an excess death count of about 150k-200k in a death count of about 3 million. This is a very small excess death rate and within just about one standard deviation.

  13. Epidemiologists should be like historians. Unemployed.

    1. Or they should be ignored when opining on things outside of their area of expertise. Which apparently includes reasonable assessment of personal risk. Epidemiology is a worthwhile field of study. They just shouldn’t be put in charge of public policy or held up as genius heroes who we all must believe all the time.

      1. Exactly!

  14. Don’t epidemiologists (including those at CDC, NIAID, and NIH) realize that they are doing more than any other identifiable group to undermine people’s belief in the efficacy of the vaccine?

    1. They are medical specialists, not marketing experts. See Zeb’s comment above.

    2. They’re just not talking down to folks condescendingly enough.

  15. It doesn’t hurt anything to wear a mask, and it might help. And this is the truth: none of the sheeple here would give a fuck about masks if Drumpf hadn’t immediately decided they made him look silly and unmanly (note to Drumpf: that train left the station long ago, thanks to your hair, fake tan and steatopygia). Seeing people wearing masks makes Tucker uncomfortable? Who gives a fuck? Frankly, the more uncomfortable he is, the better I like it. If we had gone the full libertarian route on epidemiology, this place would look like India now.

    1. It doesn’t hurt anything to wear a mask, and it might help.

      Actual science says you have that backwards, you lefty talking point shilling piece of shit.

      Anyone who wants to opine that my view of the efficacy of masks in mitigating viral transmission has anything to do with Trump needs to stay the fuck away from me. When weighing the benefits of maintaining my sanity against the cost of being arrested, you might end up getting punched right in the fucking mask hole.

      The mask should protect me from getting an infection from your mouth bacteria, which, of course, counts as a positive benefit of masks.

    2. Hot takes from an idiot.

      1. I know someone who uses “Drumpf” all the time. He also said that if you don’t wear a mask, you will die. Keep that in mind when you see “Drumpf.”

    3. You are full of shit. The most anti-mask people I know are definitely not Trump people. And while I would have preferred him over Biden, I certainly don’t hold Trump as any kind of model for behavior or wisdom.
      You are also quite wrong about masks being harmless.

    4. >>And this is the truth


    5. You might want to compare/contrast the CCU infrastructure between the US and India. Hint: we’re far more able to absorb a surge in critical patients than they are.

  16. If you meet the Buddha in the Middle of the Road, Kill Him!

  17. Maybe these folks know it’s a bio weapon and the jab is just a therapeutic so they are simply acting accordingly?

  18. Remind me, when did Reason abandon the belief that individuals are free to make their own assessment of personal risk, and take responsibility for their own decisions?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.