No holiday is safe from the public health chopping block thanks to a disease that was just a scare story from China a year ago. Kids faced a trick-or-treat-less Halloween. We’re warned that family Thanksgivings will be a death sentence for more than the turkey. Virtual Christmas celebrations sound so not merry that the only Yuletide spirits for many will come from liquor store curbside pickup.
This is where public health guidelines to stop COVID delivered us as we get ready to end this terrible year without the usual hopeful holiday celebrations. The numbers prove that the media blitz from federal and state health departments failed us. Public health guidelines either didn’t inspire enough fear or the recommendations are not enough to keep this pandemic at bay.
If we were sufficiently terrified we’d be hunkered down in hiding like Joe Biden and wouldn’t be at risk of contracting anything except terminal loneliness. That’s obviously not what’s happening. COVID-19 is beating us down. We’re confronting the fabled second wave heading into the president-elect’s dreaded “dark winter” that public health is powerless to do anything about. Even hopes roused by Pfizer’s vaccine news were quickly dashed when we realized how far away our first shot is no matter how fast the FDA moves for approval.
These are troublesome scenarios for public health agencies to deal with. It’s no surprise that the messaging we are fed confuses, conflicts, spreads fear, and causes economic damage. Does it do any good? It doesn’t seem to be working in Illinois.
CDC: a pandemic can be stressful
The CDC concedes:
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may be stressful for people.1
That was from July. The COVID situation in Illinois looked bright. Positivity was down to 4%. Mitigation efforts seemed to be working. Businesses were back on track, albeit with a new set of public health guidelines to keep workers and customers safe.
Four months later our surge in cases is breathtaking.
Seven Illinois COVID public health guidelines that confuse and conflict
Try as they might, as the COVID situation deteriorates the guidelines delivered by increasingly desperate Illinois public health officials are confusing and contradictory. It’s no wonder people seem to have given up trying to stay safe. There’s a term for it: pandemic weariness. That’s what happens when there is no progress and no hope in sight.
Here are seven questionable and confusing public health guidelines that may even put us at risk.
1. You can vote even if you’re sick.
On November 1, 2020 the CDC announced:
Voters have the right to vote, regardless of whether they are sick or in quarantine.2
The agency published its guidance for how to reduce the risk of contracting COVID when you cast your ballot:
Voters who are sick or in quarantine should take steps to protect poll workers and other voters. This includes wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before and after voting. You should also let poll workers know that you are sick or in quarantine when you arrive at the polling location. Check with local authorities for any additional guidance.3
I can only imagine the reaction from fellow voters listening to an “I have COVID” discussion at the poll worker desk.
When the election was over Illinois Public Health officials offered additional guidance. They advised everyone who went to the polls or worked at a polling place to be tested.
This is where the right to vote in person doesn’t equate with the right to put someone’s right to life in jeopardy. Besides, if everyone wore a mask as Illinois recommends in its various mask campaigns (“It only works if you wear it”) and polling places observed distancing rules, why does everyone who voted in person need to be tested? Because testing is an imperative in itself. As we slowly lose this battle, is it time to question the value of testing for testing’s sake?
2. It’s all about testing. Lots and lots of testing.
Mass testing for testing’s sake is another conundrum that makes less sense as this pandemic wears us down. Trump was routinely blamed for the lack of a national testing strategy early in the pandemic. Governor Pritzker seems obsessed with Illinois’ testing numbers as if topping other states is progress even though all it proves is that more and more people are becoming infected no matter what his public health officials do.
State Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike now recommends that every single person in Illinois should be tested for the coronavirus.
Is routine testing a good use of state resources? Just because someone tests negative once doesn’t mean they won’t test positive a few days later. We don’t know how long immunity lasts so even if I had COVID early in the pandemic I would still need to be retested just to be safe.
There are nearly 13 million people in Illinois. How often can we retest every resident who might have contracted COVID-19 minutes after their last test?
What this means is that the tests already conducted are meaningless other than to confirm an infection that most people will recover from at home. Getting tested if you don’t feel well can also expose other people to your illness. Something as routine as a flat tire, traffic ticket, or trip to the gas station risks spreading the virus.
The only strategy that makes sense is to assume that everyone has COVID-19. Otherwise, testing people who don’t feel sick for the sake of data is a costly use of resources that gives us numbers that expire the moment they are issued. In the end testing doesn’t change anything. The numbers to beware are how many people are hospitalized and in ICU wards, not how many people wait in line to find out they aren’t sick.
3. Indoor dining = death. Standing in line indoors for pot = revenue.
Aside from stepping in front of a Metra train, eating inside a restaurant is supposed to be one of the most dangerous things we can do. It’s so dangerous that it’s outlawed in many parts of Illinois including Chicago. If you want to satisfy a craving you will have to do it out of a dreary takeout bag.
If pot is your thing, cheer up. Your luck is good. The dope dispensaries are open with just a few hitches. Getting a bag of weed means standing in line indoors. You can’t pay online so cash or a debit card has to change hands. The good news is that unlike eating indoors at a restaurant you can keep your mask on. Just ignore that nagging public health warning that if you stood in line to vote you need to get tested.
Every tax dollar is more important now that the Fair Tax amendment was deemed not so fair by Illinois voters. No wonder Mr. Pritzker won’t touch dispensaries that can haul in 35%-40% in taxes for dope purchases while the virus kills us one after another.
4. Don’t put the health care system in jeopardy. Get your flu shot.
Some people are fortunate enough to be able to carry on their COVID-era lives with little or no human contact. I’m one of those people. Why on earth would I wait in line indoors at a pharmacy or other flu shot purveyor and risk getting COVID while I’m vaccinated for a disease I’m probably never going to be exposed to?
I get that I’m an extreme case. Families aren’t so lucky. Some people still have to commute to jobs where they are indoors with questionably healthy co-workers. So here’s the question: why hasn’t IDPH set up mass outdoor vaccination clinics like their mass testing facilities? The response would likely be tremendous, especially from people who are a greater risk from getting vaccinated than from staying isolated and waiting out the flu season.
5. Selfishness will defeat altruism every time.
This is where public health guidance really fails. I don’t blame the officials in charge because to make their mask guidance work they would have to lie. This is politics as much as policy and in politics lies eventually catch up to you.
Until this week the messaging on masks was that you don’t wear a mask to protect yourself. You wear it to protect others. That works really well in a perfect world where everyone cares about everyone else, but that’s not the world we live in.
People are selfish. If a mask isn’t guaranteed to protect them, how many will bother wearing one? Not many, it seems.
On November 10 the CDC shifted advice on mask wearing.4 Now masks protect the wearer, too. It’s a bit late to get the message out. With state case counts surging nine months into this pandemic it’s suspicious that now masks are for personal protection, especially when Joe Biden is trying to sell his national mask mandate.
6. Contract tracing doesn’t matter if everyone is infected.
The contact tracing problem is a lot like mask wearing. People may not take the time or be honest with contact tracers. If Biden makes good on his suggestion to make this Washington’s task, how many will feel safe discussing their close contacts with the feds?
It is human nature to assume you, your friends, and your family are safe and won’t make you sick. It’s also completely understandable to worry about discussing your friends with the government because you don’t know what could be done with the information weeks or months down the road. We live in a litigious society. What will happen when the data gets out and personal injury attorneys connect the dots long after the pandemic is over?
7. Chicago’s new color coded travel ban.
The CDC wasn’t the only public health agency to update it’s guidelines on November 10.5 Chicago revised its emergency travel order. Now banned states are color coded. There is only one problem. There are no states anywhere close to Illinois where travelers into the city don’t have to provide a negative test result or begin a 14-day quarantine.
This doesn’t make much sense when you think about how bad the COVID situation is in Illinois. I can’t imagine why anyone would risk traveling here, but if they do evasion will be the name of the game. The city threatens fines for non-compliance, but how do you enforce a travel ban? Do you profile license plates and airport arrivals? I thought Democrats were against profiling.
If you aren’t going to enforce the travel ban get rid of it. Like other state public health regulations it would make more sense to just assume 100% of the population in America is a death sentence for anyone who comes close. Proceed at your own risk.
Public health needs to do what it promised: protect us from a pandemic.
The CDC and state public health departments ratchet up the fear index but they have little to offer to keep us safe. Consider the uncertainty over aerosol transmission. Aerosol spread is still the elephant in the room, the really bad possibility no one wants to hear. Now we’ve heard from the CDC that airborne transmission happens but we still don’t know how much to worry.
Mixed public health messages do provide one clear guideline. DON’T. Whatever it is you’re thinking of doing, just don’t do it. Don’t even breathe if you can help it because the air might be full of poison mist that the crappy bandana you tied over your face is woefully incapable of stopping from killing you dead despite your youth and good looks.
This is not very helpful messaging, but it’s what we have despite state pandemic response plans and this bold statement from the CDC:
Every community in the U.S. must be ready to respond to a pandemic, natural disaster, or chemical or radiological release. Our action – or inaction – in this area directly impacts the health of the American people and is a matter of national security.6
The agency declares that a well prepared country:
Can stop outbreaks before they become epidemics.7
Words are easy. Living up to them can be hard. We weren’t prepared for this pandemic. Instead of making headway after nine months many states including Illinois are worse off than ever. Would better public health guidance have made a difference? Governor Pritzker tells us there is light somewhere at the end of this dark tunnel, but we don’t know when.
In the meantime, go stand in line for your flu shot and remember: your family are the people most likely to kill you.
UPDATE November 13, 2020: Pritzker, Lightfoot contradict their own restrictions
In her usual threatening, confrontational style Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot brought the hammer down on Chicago yesterday.
After California and New York threw the gauntlet down with new restrictions on their residents’ private lives Lightfoot had little choice but to follow suit with limits on gatherings in private homes and a new stay at home “advisory” alongside the city’s mandatory quarantine travel ban. Pritzker suggested similar actions down the road including a new stay at home order that he promised was not on the table.
None of this is a surprise, but the timing seems opportune considering the COVID numbers were bad before the election, too. I understand the threat and the cascade of positive tests officials are powerless to do anything about, but is there something else at play here?
If Democrats prevail in the Senate that could mean big money for Democrat-run states with economies that were garbage long before this pandemic. If new shutdowns do further economic damage and have the added benefit of stemming the virus numbers, so much the better. Trump will be blamed and Democrats will get the credit for bailouts. Besides, if we can eliminate Turkey Day there’s a chance progressives can scrap it for good next year along with our remaining historical statues and buildings that have WOKE-unfriendly names.
To his credit the governor is good behind a podium. He prefers a velvet glove approach compared to Lightfoot’s angry draconian pronouncements, but here’s what doesn’t make sense. Lightfoot celebrated in the streets after Biden’s possible victory. WGN-TV’s report on the festivities 7 shows the mayor in a crowd with bullhorn in hand and mask around her chin. She had already been criticized for a Pelosiesque, mask-free visit to a hairdresser8 after she shut down city salons and barber shops. The message? Lockdowns apply to the masses and not the political elite who impose them.
What’s even more puzzling is how the governor can be exposed to the coronavirus. Pritzker has been quarantined twice. Regardless of your political views, he’s an important man. IDPH’s new stay-at-home advisory asks workers to telecommute. A governor can request the most elaborate of video feeds so he can work all by his lonesome just like the state is requesting of workers who still have jobs. We’re supposed to be able to avoid exposure and stop this pandemic, so why can’t a man with resources the rest of us can only dream of? Do Zoom meetings not work in the governor’s office?
It’s too bad we can’t put tracing chips on Thanksgiving turkeys. I’ll hazard a guess that there will be some pretty big birds sitting on the family tables of Illinois Democrats this year. With Biden in office and visions of federal money in their dreams, it’s time to celebrate.
1“Coping with Stress. Pandemic can be stressful.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Updated July 1, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html, retrieved September 21, 2020.
2“Tips for Voters to Reduce Spread of COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” November 1, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/going-out/voting-tips.html, retrieved November 9, 2020.
4“Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 10, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html, retrieved November 11, 2020.
5“Emergency Travel Order.” Chicago.gov. November 10, 2020. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home/emergency-travel-order.html, retrieved November 11, 2020.
6”In An Emergency, You Can’t Respond Effectively If You’re Not Ready.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/whatwedo/emergency.htm, retrieved September 21, 2020.
7Pratt, Gregory. “Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defends getting a haircut amid coronavirus outbreak, says stylist wore ‘a mask and gloves.’ Chicago Tribune. April 6, 2020. https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-coronavirus-chicago-lori-lightfoot-haircut-20200406-jmyz2wtccnadlknya7hzbetevy-story.htmlretrieved November 13, 2020.
8Barnes, Jenna. “‘America is back’: Mayor Lightfoot optimistic after Biden win.” WGN 9. November 7, 2020. https://wgntv.com/news/politics/america-is-back-mayor-lightfoot-optimistic-after-biden-win/, retrieved November 13, 2020.
*“Social Media Toolkit.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/images/social-media-toolkit/CTToolkit-graphics-SM2.png, retrieved November 11, 2020.