“Parents should not be confused,” Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Erin Burnett last night in his attempt to clean up yet another ad-hoc messaging fumble on COVID-19. Earlier in the day, NIH director Francis Collins had told CNN that the Delta variant had changed the calculus to the extent that vaccinated parents needed to wear masks at home around unvaccinated children.
Collins walked that back hours later, but Fauci had to clean it up, claiming that Collins simply “misspoke”:
COLLINS: Parents of unvaccinated kids should be thoughtful about this and the recommendation is to wear masks there as well. I know that’s uncomfortable. I know it seems weird but it is the best way to protect your kids.
BURNETT: So, Dr. Collins came out later and tweeted that he meant to say vaccinated parents and high risk communities should mask up in public indoor settings but not at home. This caused a lot of panic and confusion among parents, of course, Dr. Fauci. Could you clear this up once and for all? Because obviously what the director said this morning was pretty unequivocal, right, and then it changed. So tell us the bottom line.
FAUCI: It’s very simple, Erin. He misspoke. He’s a personal of high integrity and he came out with a tweet and said, I apologize. I misspoke. I got it wrong. Parents do not need to wear masks in their own home. That is the right answer. Dr. Collins said he misspoke and I give him great credit for admitting it very, very quickly of saying that he misspoke. So parents should not be confused. You don’t need to wear masks in your own home.
Collins “came out with a tweet” at 4:30 pm ET. That was more than eight hours after his appearance on New Day. That’s not just a case of “misspoke,” it’s a case of flat-out getting it wrong. By the time Collins finally corrected the record, it had stood almost all day as the official recommendation from the NIH. It’s clear that Collins was spitballing on air, and the full context of his remarks makes that pretty clear:
COLLINS: It’s clear that this variant is capable of causing serious illness in children. You have heard those stories coming out of Louisiana pediatric ICUs where there are kids as young as a few months old who are sick from this. That is rara. Certainly, younger people are less likely to fall ill. But anybody who tries to tell you, you don’t have worry about it if you are a young, healthy person, there’s many counterexamples all around us now. So yes, you do need to think about it, and that’s the reason why the recommendations are for kids under 12 that they avoid being in places where they might get infected, which means recommendations of mask wearing in schools and at home. Parents of unvaccinated kids should be thoughtful about this, and the recommendation of this is to wear masks there as well.
BERMAN: Let me just follow up on that.
COLLINS: I know that’s uncomfortable. I know it seems weird, but it is the best way to protect your kids.
BERMAN: But I just again, want to fully understand if this is about protecting the kids from Delta, or is it an issue of worrying that the kids could then pass it on to other people? Is Delta making kids more sick? Are they getting sicker than they were? Is there any evidence of that from the previous variants?
COLLINS: There is suggestive evidence comparing Delta — this is from studies in Singapore, in Scotland, in Canada, that, in fact, this is not just more contagious, but more serious in various age groups. It’s not as solid as I wish it was. We don’t have really enough numbers to be confident, but it certainly tilts the balance in that direction.
If parents should not be confused, then perhaps Collins and Fauci should refrain from confusing them. Perhaps they should also wait on the data before extrapolating guidances from it, too.
For that matter, one has to wonder why they’re not recommending this. After all, the mechanism of transmission is close and continued indoor contact between those exposed to the Delta variant and those vulnerable to it. That’s exactly the position in homes with unvaccinated children, no? That home environment poses a higher risk than in grocery stores and shopping centers, especially because of the sustained close contact in homes that lack the kind of robust HVAC systems that can mitigate against viral transmission.
That’s clearly what Collins was getting at, even acknowledging that the guidance was “weird.” So why the walk-back? It’s not because of science, although the science on masks shows that almost none of them would work in that situation except N95 masks, and you can’t wear those for more than a couple of hours at a time. It’s because parents would refuse to do it, and both Fauci and the White House know it. It’s the kind of “guidance” that’s not only weird but so needlessly intrusive that it generates instant defiance — especially since no one even suggested this before we had vaccines in the first place.
That’s why it took over eight hours for Collins to correct his “misspoken” guidance. And it’s yet another data point in explaining why people have more or less tuned out the guidances from CDC and NIH, even when they make sense and should be followed. The manipulation is just too easy to see, and their credibility has been shattered as a result … just when they might need it the most.