CDC’s convenient science has eroded trust from parents

As covid safety guidelines continue to shift, especially in school contexts, parents are losing patience and trust. Questions about the CDC’s approach and cherry-picking of data to enact these…

As covid safety guidelines continue to shift, especially in school contexts, parents are losing patience and trust. Questions about the CDC’s approach and cherry-picking of data to enact these guidelines are becoming unavoidable. As parents of school-aged children are repeatedly admonished to ‘trust the science’ without question, they are left wondering about the agendas behind the ‘science’ that gets the green light. At the same time, other scientific data is conveniently ignored.

In an article released last week titled, “The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School,” the Atlantic exposed major areas of weakness in the CDC’s guidance to schools, particularly in the CDC’s use of a study with flawed methodology and data. Additionally, the CDC pivoted last week in their guidance regarding safely continuing in-person learning in schools after exposure, dubbing the strategy ‘test-to-stay’. 

Early in the pandemic, concerned parents sounded the alarm regarding aggressive school closures and how they were affecting their school-aged children. Experts warned that the negative effect of the school closures on children’s mental health and educational growth would be worse than potential exposure to Covid. That suggestion was widely disregarded, and public schools across the nation remained closed or adopted severely restricted in-person learning. In stark contrast, other accommodations such as bars and casinos were allowed to reopen. Many private schools also opted to remain open, sometimes at the risk of legal action from government entities.

Parents who pointed out these inconsistencies, among other issues facing public education, were labeled as ‘domestic terrorists’ or framed as uneducated and selfish for not trusting the ‘science’. As it turns out, the concerns about mental health and lost education are well founded. Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents jumped 31% in 2020, with an over 50% increase among girls aged 12-17 compared to 2019. 

These troubling trends among youth led to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declaring the closure-induced decline in mental health among school-aged children a national emergency. Educationally, closures left students “on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.”

Regarding the ‘test-to-stay’ strategy, the guidance states that children who are tested regularly, even after known exposure, can continue in-person learning if they continue to return negative tests. “Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school,” says CDC director Rochelle Walensky. The language of the release puts heavy emphasis on the importance of in-person learning, leaving many parents confused about why they were gaslighted for prioritizing the same thing early on in the pandemic. 

Equally as controversial was the debate around masking in school. The ‘domestic terrorist’ moniker included those parents who showed up to school board meetings to voice their concern regarding the effectiveness of masks and the long-term impacts of continued masking. The CDC took a particularly aggressive stance, suggesting that children as young as two-years-old should be required to mask up. 

In September, Walensky made the bold claim that schools without mask mandates were “3.5 times as likely to experience COVID outbreaks.” She repeated the claim multiple times in various formats. However, according to multiple experts, the origination of this ‘statistic’ is based on very ‘shaky science’. Further, data released from the state of Michigan recently showed that schools with mask mandates saw the same transmission rates as schools without mandates. 

In spite of this, the CDC continues to stand by the study and considers it among their most important. Its findings served to justify sweeping mask mandate policies affecting millions of children nationwide. The willingness of the CDC to continue touting these statistics based on flawed science is cause for reasonable concern. While many scientists agree that masks in school may have some benefits, the extent of the effectiveness is inconclusive. In short, masking in schools is nowhere near the panacea that progressives claim it is, and blanket policies based on these assumptions are problematic.

Parents who support common-sense, agenda-free approaches in light of the inconsistencies outlined above get labeled and silenced. They are also left wondering why flawed studies are easily accepted as ‘science’, while other findings are largely ignored. 

These parents aren’t anti-science. They want science they can trust, and they will continue to question the drivers behind current policies that affect their school-aged children, even as they face vilification from teacher’s unions, national associations, or certain government officials. It is becoming more and more apparent to parents that ‘trusting the science’ is a rhetorical device disconnected with the actual safety of their children.