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CDC Shares Updated Marketing Plans
Agency lacks all self-awareness and doubles down on failure
I originally wrote a Twitter thread about this last night, but I expanded it into a Substack article that’s got a little more detail (and is a little less ragey). I was pretty floored when I found out about their plans yesterday, and vented my frustration quickly on Twitter, and now have had a chance to fully organize my thoughts as a warning about what’s coming.
Yesterday, Alexander Tin of CBS News shared a Twitter thread with some notes from a CDC respiratory virus season briefing. His thread was both shocking and depressing. It’s clear that the CDC has learned nothing and is determined to double-down on their bad decisions throughout the pandemic instead of actually trying to rebuild trust in their failed institution.
As part of the briefing, the CDC shared some of their messaging plans for fall/winter virus season. If that sounds more like a PR pitch than a science briefing to you, there’s a reason for that… I’ve even written about it before:
It seems they’ve been doing some marketing/PR research, focus groups probably, about how to get more people vaccinated. They decided to forgo sharing accurate information, and instead rely on overly simple, ease-to-understand messages. CDC Director Mandy Cohen said, “Too often, we are sacrificing understanding for precision.” Honestly, this is just a slap in the face for many Americans who have already been treated to overly simplified, nuance-free messaging from the CDC throughout the pandemic.
Just a few examples of the CDC’s past oversimplifications:
CDC recommended masks for 2-year-olds and up, because they wanted to mask literally everyone, but knew it would be a suffocation risk for those under 2. They couldn’t conceive of any reason why young children may not be good candidates for masking.
CDC frequently ignores the massive age-gradient in Covid severity and gives broad recommendations that don’t acknowledge young healthy people are at low risk from severe disease.
Former CDC Director Walensky made repeated false claims unsupported by the evidence that the vaccines stopped transmission.
CDC continues to downplay concerns of vaccine myocarditis in young men and insists that vaccines and boosters are worth it across all age groups.
We don’t need more understandable messaging. We need more accurate information. We need a serious, data-driven science organization that can be trusted by Americans and those abroad. Instead, people look to CDC guidance with horror because they seem to dumb down everything to the point that they aren’t getting the facts right.
Their creative team even shared some of their new social media campaign that “leverages emotional ties to loved ones as the key motivator.” Somehow they think that this will “counterbalance...concerns around fear mongering.” I honestly don’t understand this at all. It sounds more like they realize their attempts to convince most Americans they are at high risk aren’t working, so they’re shifting back to their earlier messaging that kept schools closed — “Young people may not be at risk, but you’ve got to sacrifice to protect Grandma.”
But it’s 2023, and even many older people aren’t at high risk anymore. (More on that in another article I’m working on.) In my experience, grandparents aren’t asking everyone around them to do anything special to keep them “safe.” Older people are able to get boosted if they want, and can make their own decisions about their health. Most older people I know are just happy to live life. They’re going to stores and restaurants and church and other events, and not concerned about the vaccination status of people around them, they don’t expect anyone to test before visiting, and they don’t want to see family all masked up around them. Most people are back to normal. But the CDC can’t stand that apparently.
“Stop the Spread”
Most of America has accepted that Covid is here to stay, and that we’re not still trying to “flatten the curve” or “stop the spread” beyond doing reasonable things that we’ve always done to avoid sharing illnesses, like washing hands, coughing into our elbows, and staying home when we’re really sick.
But the preview that the CDC shared of their upcoming social media campaign is focused on this “stop the spread” propaganda that tells people to literally “DO EVERYTHING” to keep well, and lists vaccines, testing, air quality improvements, and masks. In 2023. Why are we still doing this kind of nonsense? Most countries abandoned widespread testing long ago, but the US is determined to keep a bunch of foreign test makers in business for some reason.
The US is also in the minority of countries still talking about masks at this point. When asked about when the CDC considers masking important, Nirav Shah suggested that masking after you’ve been exposed to someone who has Covid “is a great way” to avoid exposing someone else. C’mon — nobody is doing this. It’s just completely out of touch with the situation in 2023. People are being exposed to Covid on a regular basis, without knowing when or where or by whom.
Masking after the few times you’ve been around someone who bothers to test and notify you that you were exposed is just silliness at this point. There’s no evidence this would make any difference. But some schools and employers mandate this lunacy, because the CDC recommends it and convinced them it was important. This is especially frustrating given the incredibly weak data we have on mask effectiveness — despite the mask propaganda that CDC has published in MMWR.
Isolation is Here to Stay
Lastly, in case you thought that the CDC might come to grips with the fact that their isolation guidance is completely out of step with many other countries and even the state of Oregon... I regret to inform you that the CDC has no intention of updating isolation guidance.
I wrote the article below earlier this year about the need to revise isolation guidance, but any changes may have to be done at the state level (as they did in Oregon), because the CDC seems completely unwilling to adjust isolation recommendations in the face of widespread population immunity.
Overall, it feels like instead of shifting into a new mode for 2023 and beyond where Covid doesn’t control our lives, the CDC is determined to just make “winter virus season” an even bigger deal. Their marketing communication efforts are going to push hard across the board on vaccines and other NPIs for Covid, flu, and even RSV. (Note that the RSV vaccine isn’t even available for all age groups and their official vaccine guidance is much more measured). This has confirmed that contrary to what the ZeroCovid activists would have you believe, the CDC has no intention of moving on from their new found position of power regarding respiratory viruses. This means people will need to push harder with state and local governments, businesses, and schools to encourage them to start ignoring CDC recommendations, instead of treating it like some sort of divine guidance from public health gods.
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