INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Last week the CDC reversed its masking policy saying fully vaccinated people should — once again — mask up while indoors. The same goes for children over the age of 2. The reversal comes less than three months after the organization lifted restrictions for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, saying they do not need to wear masks indoors, outdoors and in public spaces.
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The reasoning behind the change makes sense. Evidence shows the delta strain is taking over. It carries 1,000 times more viral load than previous strains and is 225% more transmissible. Delta also accounts for 83% of all coronavirus cases nationwide and 90% of breakthroughs. And masking up kept millions of people safe by preventing infection these past 18 months.
I’ve been a scientific researcher for over a decade. I still consider myself one. I’m not questioning any of the data and reasoning behind the reversal. But I am questioning the scientific process in which the CDC went about it. The organization announced the updated recommendations before revealing the data supporting the change. Let me explain.
Research has a process. It has steps that need to be completed before coming to conclusions that may or may not influence public policy. First, scientists make an observation. Then they ask a question. In this case the observation was the delta variant is surging. The question was whether to reinstate masking because of the rapid spread. They then form a hypothesis or testable explanation and make a prediction of what the outcome might be — meaning will the data to be collected support their prediction or not.
From there, they collect a sample. How many people will be in the study? What are their characteristics? Scientists conduct the experiment, analyze the results and draw conclusions. They list study strengths and limitations. The last portion of the paper are the authors’ recommendations to public policy makers about what should happen moving forward based on the results of the study.
Here’s where the CDC went wrong. Public policy makers changed guidelines before sharing the results to the public. This isn’t exactly research misconduct — which are things like plagiarism or fabricating data. But it does raise the issue of ethics. My question to the CDC is this: Why were results not made public before the guidelines were changed?
You and I and every other American deserve answers to questions, results to justify the change in guidelines, followed by the announcement of a policy change. It’s our right as citizens of this country.
Some data supporting the science has now been made available. Nonetheless, the CDC did it backwards. They reversed masking guidelines before the data was made public. As a scientist, my conclusion is this: The CDC’s mask reversal was enforced by discretion, thus violating the scientific process.