Mask Mandates

The CDC Director's Slippery Response to Criticism of School Mask Mandates Further Undermines Her Agency's Credibility

Rochelle Walensky willfully ignores the weaknesses of a study she repeatedly cited to justify "universal masking" of students.


Americans should be able to rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for honest and accurate information about communicable illnesses and strategies for dealing with them. But time and again during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has proven herself untrustworthy. The latest example is Walensky's slippery response to criticism of a study that she has repeatedly cited to justify the CDC's controversial recommendation that K–12 schools require students to wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19.

That study, which the CDC published on September 24, looked at "school-associated COVID-19 outbreaks"—defined as two or more confirmed cases among students or staff members within a 14-day period—in two Arizona counties from July 15 through August 31. "After adjusting for potential described confounders," the researchers reported, "the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak in schools without a mask requirement were 3.5 times higher than those in schools with an early mask requirement."

As I noted at the time, the study did not take into account local vaccination rates or COVID-19 safeguards that schools adopted in addition to mask mandates. The failure to consider those variables by itself makes it impossible to draw any firm conclusions about the explanation for the difference described by the researchers.

It is plausible that schools with "early mask requirements" tended to be located in neighborhoods with relatively high vaccination rates. It is also plausible that they were especially likely to take other precautions, such as improved ventilation and physical distancing. Those factors could help explain why the schools with mask mandates were less likely to report outbreaks. Since the researchers did not control for those variables, their study cannot tell us what role mask requirements played.

In a December 16 article published by The Atlantic, David Zweig noted those issues and several other potential problems with the study, including the choice of outbreaks rather than infection rates as the outcome variable, a bias in testing of "close contacts," and the fact that some schools were open twice as long as others during the study period. More generally, the scientists Zweig interviewed said the magnitude of the purported effect was highly implausible and inconsistent with other research on the benefits of masking. Noah Haber, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's Meta-Research Innovation Center who co-authored a recent systematic review of research on COVID-19 mitigation measures, described the Arizona study as "so unreliable that it probably should not have been entered into the public discourse."

Walensky nevertheless latched on to the study as validation of the CDC's support for "universal masking" in K–12 schools. During a Face the Nation interview two days after the study was published, she said it "demonstrated that places that had no [mask mandates] in place were three and a half times more likely to have outbreaks than places that did have [mask mandates] in place." During a White House briefing two days later, she said "jurisdictions that had masking [requirements] early in their school year…were three and a half times less likely to have outbreaks." In a tweet that afternoon, she said the Arizona data "reinforce the benefits of masks" in "preventing #COVID19 outbreaks in schools." During another White House briefing on October 13, she reiterated that "schools without a mask requirement were three and a half times likelier to have a COVID-19 outbreak than schools that require[d] masks."

Last week Walensky took viewer questions during a Fox News segment. "You have consistently cited one study in Arizona as justification for mask mandates in schools," one viewer, Dave Joyce, noted. "Yet there's reporting in The Atlantic that shows that the study is deeply flawed. Will you follow the science and stop relying on faulty studies and end mask mandates for children in schools?"

Despite her heavy reliance on the Arizona study, Walensky did not acknowledge, let alone rebut, any of the points raised by Zweig or the experts he quoted. Instead she said this:

There have been study after study, not only in this country but in other countries, that have demonstrated that our layered prevention strategies, including masks in schools, are able to keep our schools safely open. What I would say now is that we have the capacity with vaccines available now to children above the age of 5 that we would encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. Importantly, we want to be able to keep our schools open, and the best way to do that is to use those layered prevention strategies, and that includes not only vaccinating our children and our adults but also to continue to mask, certainly in the context of this very transmissible omicron variant.

Note that Walensky refers to "layered prevention strategies" rather than mask mandates specifically. That's because the research to which she is alluding typically did not attempt to isolate the impact of mask requirements. By and large, the studies did not even compare schools with mask mandates to schools without them. As the CDC put it, the studies showed that "transmission within school settings is typically lower than—or at least similar to—levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place." These studies did not show, and because of their design could not show, that masking or any other specific safeguard was necessary for schools to "safely" reopen.

When it first issued its guidance for schools, the CDC's best attempt at a more rigorous analysis was a large study of Georgia schools published in May, which found no statistically significant evidence that requiring students to wear masks reduced infection rates, even before vaccines were widely available. In a preprint study posted the same month, Brown University economist Emily Oster and four other researchers analyzed COVID-19 data from Florida, New York, and Massachusetts for the 2020–21 school year. "We do not find any correlations with mask mandates," they reported. But they noted that "all rates [were] lower in the spring, after teacher vaccination [was] underway."

In short, the CDC decided to recommend "universal masking" of K–12 students without any solid evidence that the policy had an important impact on COVID-19 transmission, let alone that its benefits outweighed the substantial burdens it imposes. The CDC is now trying to retroactively validate its decision by citing subsequent research that remains far from conclusive.

School districts that still require masking are relying on the CDC's judgment. So is the Biden administration when it argues that deviating from the agency's advice is not just unwise but illegal. Both assume that we can count on the CDC to fairly assess the scientific evidence. The agency's handling of this issue, along with its many other missteps, misstatements, and weakly justified reversals, shows we can't.

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  1. Party of SCIENCE!!!

    1. Fuck Joe Biden

    2. What can I say? She blinded me with THE Science!

  2. Credibility.


    1. Credibility is irrelevant. They have the power, they have the media, they have the secret police, they have at least half the people marching in formation at their every whim.

      "Put your mask on!" is not an appeal to credibility. It never was.

      1. Yup. You will obey.

  3. I keep trying to find the part of the Constitution that gives the executive the power to create regulations with the power of law, enforce those regulations, and adjudicate them as well.

    In fact I thought that was one of the things the Founders were trying to avoid.

    1. I'd kill for a President to start vetoing bills for giving way too much power to executive agencies.

      1. Better yet one that would dismantle most of the alphabet agencies. Some make sense. Like DOD, which is a legitimate executive power. But most of them can go.

        But that's the libertarian conundrum. Someone who promises to put thousands and thousands of government employees out of work isn't going to get elected.

        1. Weird.

          But Trump has repeatedly indicated that he wants to take an ax to the federal government, something that could spark major controversy in the weeks and months ahead.

          Monday’s executive order could kick-start the reduction of the number of federal workers, a process that would fuel Trump’s ongoing battle with the bureaucracy he was elected to lead.

          Someone was elected exactly on that promise. But he had mean tweets.

    2. It is derived from the take care clause. Try reading it sometime.

      And no I don't agree with common and current interpretation especially Chevron.

    3. Nice try, Tulpa.

  4. After having ushered in the clowns, and having had adequate time to reflect on the disarray, the audience swiftly realized that the doors to the circus had been closed from the outside and the clowns exited the pavilion unnoticed, under the fog of the crowd's excitement. The smoke started gathering first at their feet, but the music played on. There would be no show. Their screams were muffled by the pyre, and the smoke made their gasps sound like laughter.

    1. Hi. What is that quote from? It sounds terrifying. And appropriate for this article. Thanks.

  5. There never was and never will be empirical evidence masks did and ever will do anything in the future to stop the spread of an airborne illness. It is appalling astonishing the CDC - even by its own corrupted criminal incompetence - would stick by amulets that provide very little net benefits. We have decades worth of studies so steep in evidence the body of evidence speaks for itself. Those CDC studies they promote on their website are so sophomoric it's preposterous she even refers to them.

    Ask any industrial hygienist worth their salt about masks against viruses.

    Yet, here we are.....22 months later. Don't ever tell me 'follow the science' again.

    1. People are not attacking those who refuse to wear masks in stores, and trains, and restaurants, and airplanes over the prospect of potentially contracting a virus, but to signal their allegiance. Wearing a mask, and harassing and assaulting those that do not, signals that one dutifully adheres to the orthodoxy of the prevailing political party; that one is willing to do anything for the party; that one is willing to put themselves in harm's way for the party; that one loves the party; that one hates the enemies of the party.

      All for the party. It is all for the party. It is all for the party.

      1. I know plenty of conservatives who support masking and vaccine mandates. Of course they're all old and afraid for their safety.

        Point being that it isn't strictly a Democrat thing.

        1. I don't believe you.

          1. I see. So when anyone says anything that doesn't conform to your world view, you accuse them of being a liar. That's intelligent.

            1. No.

              This is not about "anyone." This is about you.

              You are a liar, and I do not believe you. You are a weasel, you dissemble on a daily basis, and I have been here long enough to see how you behave and interact with others in the most reprehensible and dishonest manner while claiming to be interested in civil discourse. You have no credibility with anyone in these comments, you are a malicious, and I will never engage you with anything but hostility. Pray we never meet.

              Now fuck off.

              1. P.S.

                Fuck you faggot.

              2. I'm sorry you confuse me with JesseAZ, R Mac, and Mother's Lament.

                Have a good day.

                1. I get along with him just fine dummy. I even have fine conversations with Tony. Because at least he is honest with his arguments, no matter how terrible. You are dishonest. Full stop.

                2. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t believe you either, sarc.

                  1. Nobody believes sarcasmic.

              3. Pray we never meet.

                Is that a threat? Please, go on.

                1. Put me back on your mute list, brag about it (while lying, predictably), and then kill yourself.

                  1. How old are you? Thirteen?

                    1. You wish, faggot.

                    2. You really are a model of maturity. Your parents must be proud.

                    3. TULPA!!

                    4. Nope. Still me. For now. I'm sure he'll swoop in at some point and shit up the place.

                    5. That is exactly what I would expect Tulpa to say, Tulpa.

                    6. The irony being that sarc 2 and 3 were simply repeating what sarc 1 has been saying for months. Lol.

                    7. The irony being that sarc 2 and 3 were simply repeating what sarc 1 has been saying for months. Lol.

                      That proves the idiot orchestrated the entire situation, and it wouldn't be the first time, either. He was literally spoofing himself, posting as himself, and then arguing with himself using the same half baked, college freshman nonsense that he uses on everyone else.

                      Even if it was someone else, which I do not believe for a second, the fact that someone can so seamlessly and flawlessly imitate sarc just goes to show nothing he says is worth a shit.

                    8. Is thirteen too old for you sarc?

                2. sarcasmic
                  July.10.2021 at 8:25 pm
                  Flag Comment Mute User
                  I wish he's talk his shit to someone's face. He wouldn't be commenting for a while because he'd be in the hospital.

                  Tsk tsk hypocrite.

                  1. If by "civil discourse" you mean suckering unsuspecting users into a "good faith" discussion only to ask them a never ending series of pointless questions while deliberately misconstruing their arguments, lying about the facts, and obliquely insulting their intelligence, I am for it.

                    If by "civil discourse" you mean people aggressively calling me out on my bullshit, all of which they have been subjected to over and over and over again, I am against it.

                    I'd call sarc a worthless turd, but some turds are actually studied by scientists, and are indeed quite valuable. That would be insulting to turds. Sarc is a cancerous polyp on the disemboweled entrails of a pedophile rotting in a shallow grave. If shit could shit, it would be called "sarcasmic."

              4. By the way, disagreeing with strawman arguments and ad hominems doesn't make me the liar.

                1. Nobody cares.

                  1. "Nobody cares!" "Faggot!" "Go kill yourself!"

                    Yep. Your mom must be really proud of how you turned out.

                    1. Your abused daughter must be really proud that you blame her mother for your shitty parenting.

                    2. Lmao! Keep projecting, mamma's boy!

                    3. "I'm only interested in civil discussions!"

                      This is why nobody engages you with anything but hostility. Everyone knows you are a pathetic, lying snake. I have no qualms about harassing you and your family life, because I know everything you say is a complete fucking lie. You make up an entire existence for yourself just to be able to segue into whatever irrelevant and dishonest point you happen to feel like making on any given day. You are a troll that thrives on the abuse and the more you get sucked into these exchanges and reveal yourself, the more people understand what you are --- and that the best way to deal with you, is to tell you to go fuck yourself.

                      Fuck off.

                    4. This from the guy who said he wanted to feed horse meat to his ex because she liked horses. And the guy who burns and fucks with someone's dinner because they didn't order it how he liked.

                      Youre not one to talk sarc. You've openly admitted to being a terrible human being with no respect for others.

              5. well put!

        2. It's all an IQ test. There's idiots on both sides of r political spectrum. As the Harvest must continue on its path of separating the Sheep from the Goats.
          The Phucko Knows

    2. Welcome back Rufus! Assuming you are the original Rufus. You have been sorely missed.

  6. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

    ― H.L. Mencken

    1. It's the CDC's version of Afghanistan. The goal is to keep it going, not bring it to an end.

  7. "After adjusting for potential described confounders," the researchers reported, "the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak in schools without a mask requirement were 3.5 times higher than those in schools with an early mask requirement."

    the study did not take into account local vaccination rates or COVID-19 safeguards that schools adopted in addition to mask mandates.

    Apparently "local vaccination rates or COVID-19 safeguards" were considered "potential described confounders", whatever *that* means.

  8. "The CDC Director's Slippery Response to Criticism of School Mask Mandates Further Undermines Her Agency's Credibility"

    Who knew they still had any credibility?

    They've been so wrong about so much. The point of their public face is noble lies. We're supposed to believe whatever they say because believing them supposedly makes the world a better place--regardless of whether what they say is true. Their own credibility is a means to an end--not an end in itself--and the truth is their worst enemy.

    1. Bingo.

    2. If they ever turn out to be correct - it will be by accident.

  9. Perhaps we could refer to the CDC recommendations?
    (from the time frame of BC; before COVID)

    CDC statement on masks and the ‘real’ flu:
    "Background; Masks are not usually recommended in non-healthcare settings; however, this guidance provides other strategies for limiting the spread of influenza viruses in the community.
    Unvaccinated Asymptomatic Persons, Including Those at High Risk for Influenza Complications
    No recommendation can be made at this time for mask use in the community by asymptomatic persons, including those at high risk for complications, to prevent exposure to influenza viruses."

  10. Wallensky is just following Fauci's lead. I don't know if that makes her worse, or him.

  11. The lady is just a horrible person. She needs to soon be swinging from the gallows.
    The Phucko Knows

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