Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd

Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd 1

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

As readers know, “Covid is airborne” (“Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2“). Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to get the White House to adopt this messaging, which in addition to simplicity, has the great merit of being true:

Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd 2

The White House, apparently, prefers to speak through its actions, doubling down on Vax-only by holding its very own superspreading event, hailed as a paragon of “thoughtful” risk assessment:

(Wen’s “new normal” is a virtually psychotic dystopia, given that “living with Covid” implies Long Covid, as well as vascular and neurological damage, both in “mild” cases.)

I don’t see how it’s possible to be “thoughtful” about risk without a collectively agreed upon theory of transmission, a theory the Biden Administration resolutely refused to provide; it’s like being “thoughtful” about fire safety when phlogiston and oxygen are competing paradigms. For example, here’s future MSNBC personally Jen Psaki on masking:

Of course, Psaki cannot — will not — say: “Covid is airborne; of course we support masking.” So she fobs the matter off to the CDC, which is ludicrous, because Walensky is a creature of the White House.

In this post, I will demonstrate the Biden Administration’s shambolic position on airborne transmission, looking at the White House Office of Science and Technology, the CDC, and OSHA. Then I’ll conclude with a few remarks on personal risk-taking, and how the White House, by not adopting a scientifically proven theory of transmission, has made risk assessment much for difficult for poor shlubs like us whose return to normal doesn’t (we hope) include Covid parties.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

From the New York Times, “The White House emphasizes the importance of indoor air quality as the pandemic moves into a new phases“:

Alondra Nelson, chief of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said last week that the guidance was part of an initiative called the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. In a blog post titled, “Let’s Clear the Air on Covid,” she cited the guidance and said, “Now, we all need to work collectively to make our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers aware of what we can do or ask for to make being indoors together safer.”

“For decades, Americans have demanded that clean water flow from our taps and pollution limits be placed on our smokestacks and tailpipes,” Dr. Nelson wrote in the post. “It is time for healthy and clean indoor air to also become an expectation for us all.”

U.S. federal health authorities were initially slow to identify airborne transmission of the virus. It was only in October 2020 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that the virus can sometimes be airborne, long after many infectious disease experts warned that the coronavirus traveled aloft in small, airborne particles. Scientists have been calling for a bigger focus on addressing that risk for more than a year.

The initiative is “really a big deal,” said William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University and head of the Epidemic Task Force at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. “It’s making the start that is often the most difficult part.”

CIDRAP comments:

Though some experts around the world have been arguing that point for years, and subsequently advocating for respirator use and enhanced ventilation systems, this is the first time the White House has formally acknowledged that aerosol transmission has been the primary driver of the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, it has turned away from the language used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Kudos to Nelson for a welcome breath of sanity. In her blog post, she writes:

The most common way COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another is through tiny airborne particles of the virus hanging in indoor air for minutes or hours after an infected person has been there. While there are various strategies for avoiding breathing that air – from remote work to masking – we can and should talk more about how to make indoor environments safer by filtering or cleaning air.

As many pointed out, the simple message “Covid is airborne” does not appear, nor does the word “aerosol” (except in a footnote. The footnotes are interesting, because they show Nelson or her staff have been doing their own reading, and not relying on CDC blather). In addition, Nelson organized a virtual event entitled — Come on, come on! Covid is airborne!— “Let’s clear the air!” Here it is:

(First guest, Zeynep Tufecki, which is encouraging. Also Joseph Allen and Linsey Marr.)

Nevertheless, I think we can say that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is on the right track. (That’s a separate issue from whether Biden administration policy on ventilation is any good at all; and absent a clear statement that “Covid is airborne,” why should people be spending money on HVAC as opposed to, say, plexiglass barriers or deep cleaning?

The CDC

We come now to the CDC which, on “Covid is airborne,” is just as stupid and horrid as NC readers would expect it to be.

Here is the menu structure of the CDC’s home page on Covid MR SUBLIMINAL Who did this?:

Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd 3

Notice, there is no menu item for Covid transmission whatever. No menu item like “How Covid spreads,” or “How You Can Catch Covid.” So I used the Search tool, and came up with this[1]:

Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd 4

This indigestible lump of prose has been hailed as CDC’s concession that “Covid is Airbornel,” but you can tell whoever wrote it did so while they were having an awesome sulk. Some problems with it:

1) If you can get from “SARS-COV-2 is transmitted by exposure to infectious respiratory fluids” to “aersols” let alone to “Covid is airborne,” you have my sincere congratulations. Personally, I think the headline is meant to sound so authoritative people will simply press the Back button.

2) The author places inhalation, desposition, and touching mucous membranes all on the same plane, when in fact there is overwhelming evidence for inhalation, and little to none for deposition and mucous membranes. (I would urge that the last two are simply political concessions to “droplet dogma” goons.)

3) When the author says “three principle ways (not mutually exclusive)” they imply that the risk for all three is the same. In fact, airborne tranmission is overwhelmingly the main risk and the others are negligible.

4) The author does not mention superspreading events, which are the most dangerous to the community, and only happen through aerosol transmission.

CDC is, in other words, increasing risk for readers by obfuscating the major mode of transmission.

In fact, if you really want to reduce risk, one good first step is to distrust anything CDC tells you. For example, take their “local guidance and county check” — please! Here’s Cook County:

Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd 5

I picked Cook County because it’s a rapid riser county. CDC, naturally, says it’s perfectly safe to go there. Even more stupidly and lethally, county check/community levels are virtually useless in assessing risk. You don’t catch Covid in a county; you catch Covid in a venue. Because Covid is airborne, you are taking a lot less risk walking in Grant Park on a sunny, windy day thn you are drinking and eating in a small, crowded room, sharing air with many others. By erasing all this logic, CDC is actively endangering people.

OSHA

OSHA guidance on Covid has a long and complicated history, and to the best of my understanding, no guidance has in fact been released. In January 2021, Biden directed OSHA to issue “emergency temporary guidelines” on Covid. The result was a 780-page document entitled “Occupational Exposure to COVID-19; Emergency Temporary Standard” (PDF). Here is what the draft had to say on airborne transmission of Covid:

In general, enclosed environments, particularly those without good ventilation, increase

the risk of airborne transmission (CDC, December 31, 2020; Tang et al., August 7, 2020; Fennelly, July 24, 2020). In one scientific brief, CDC provides a basic overview of how airborne transmission occurs in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation. Once respiratory droplets are exhaled, CDC explains, they move outward from the source and their concentration decreases through fallout from the air (largest droplets first, smaller later) combined with dilution of the remaining smaller droplets and particles into the growing volume of air they encounter (CDC, October 5, 2020). Without adequate ventilation, continued exhalation can cause the amount of infectious smaller droplets and particles produced by people with COVID-19 to become concentrated enough in the air to spread the virus to other people (CDC, October 5, 2020).

In other words, OSHA understands both ventilation and superspreading. More:

For example, an investigation of a cluster of cases among meat processing employees in Germany found that inadequate ventilation within the facility, including low air exchange rates and constant air recirculation, was one key factor that led to transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within the workplace (Gunther et al., October 27, 2020). An epidemiological investigation of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in an indoor athletic court in Slovenia demonstrated that the humid and warm environment of the setting, combined with the turbulent air flow that resulted from the physical activity of the players, allowed COVID-19 particles to remain suspended in the air for hours (Brlek et al., June 16, 2020). A cluster of cases in a restaurant in China also suggested transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via airborne particles because of little mixing of air throughout the restaurant (Li et al., November 3, 2020). Infections have been observed with as little as five minutes of exposure in an enclosed room (Kwon et al., November 23, 2020). Outdoor settings (i.e., open air or structures with one wall) typically have a lower risk of transmission (Bulfone et al., November 29, 2020), which is likely due to increased ventilation with fresh air and a greater ability to maintain physical distancing.

This is pretty good (and tactfully shows CDC’s tendency to ignore the scientific side of the house when issuing guidance).

Unfortunately, the Biden administration pulled that guidance and had OSHA issue a rewrite. The resulting subsitute, after some gentle revision from the White House regulatory office, was basically Vax-only propaganda. As of today, there is no standard:

In late December, OSHA pulled the non-recordkeeping portions of its COVID-19 emergency temporary standard for healthcare because it could not issue a final standard on healthcare workers’ COVID-19 protections within a required six-month time frame.

The agency said at the time that it would continue work to develop the final standard and reaffirmed those intentions with this week’s announcement.

Unbelievably, the emergency rule now only applies to health care workers (!!), and may not appear at all. From Bloomberg, today:

[OSHA] wants to issue the permanent rule as a follow-on to its emergency temporary standard for health care issued on June 21. But the law creating OSHA—the Occupational Safety and Health Act—gives the agency just six months to issue a permanent version of a rule after enactment of an emergency standard, meaning the time to do so arguably expired four months ago.

“That six-month date was December 21, 2021. With no final standard issued, by then the effective period for the ETS lapsed and OSHA rightfully announced its withdrawal,” Marc Freedman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for workplace policy, said in the chamber’s comment letter.

But OSHA isn’t likely to ditch the initiative. With the Supreme Court’s January decision that effectively killed the agency’s shot-or-test mandate and OSHA’s Dec. 27 announcement that it wasn’t enforcing its temporary standard, the permanent health-care rule is OSHA’s lone Covid-19 rulemaking.

Agency officials have said several times they intend to issue the permanent rule before end of 2022. OSHA took those written comments as part of that process.

On the other side, unions and other worker groups are concerned OSHA will water down the emergency health-care standard’s requirements. The AFL-CIO and National Nurses United have sued to compel the agency to issue an appropriate, and permanent, measure within 30 days of the court ordering it to do so.

“Rather than weaken the ETS and OSHA’s own enforcement stance, OSHA should prioritize and strengthen safety protections based on the ETS and experience of the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Debbie Hatmaker, chief nursing officer for the American Nurses Association.

Among the changes OSHA is considering is how much the final rule should align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and how to allow employers to incorporate CDC guidance issued after the rule is issued. The regulator raised the idea by declaring that employers following the CDC guidance at the time of an inspection wouldn’t be cited for not adhering to older guidance specified in the standard. And the agency continues to get requests to extend the scope of the rule beyond health care to other essential industries such as food production.

Obviously, given the quality of CDC’s work, OSHA guidance should be controlling. Since making CDC guidance controlling is the stupidest and most lethal outcome, no doubt that is what will happen.

Conclusion

Here is what somebody who understands that Covid Is Airborne does when they want to assess risk. They check the concentratrion of CO2 to see how much air they are sharing in the venue (not the county ffs):

And on the Acela, what a shame:

Here is another example (at a WHO conference, interestingly):

I stashed away, and sadly now cannot find — readers? — a chart that mapped the percentage of CO2 in the air to the amount of other people’s breath you are breathing in (and a proxy for your risk of infection, since Covid is airborne). In lieu of that chart, and as a logical substitute for an expensive meter, I offer this chart, which is reasonably intuitive:

If you can’t spring for your own CO2 meter, then the logic on this chart is what to use.

Now, of all the Federal agencies discussed, which is likeliest to help you assess risk most accurately? Surely The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, since they at least understand that Covid is accurately. Surely not OSHA, politically hamstrung as it seems to be. And surely not the CDC. Because the CDC cannot commit to the scientifically proven theory of transmission — Covid is airborne! — you cannot, following their guidance, know how to prioritize purchasing a CO2 meter, categorizing the venues in which you will spend time, avoiding splashes to the nose, mouth or eye with a faceshield or even a plexiglass barrier, or washing your hands frequently so that if you touch your mucuous membranes, they’re clean. n fact, it probably has been already. What kind of “thoughtful” personal risk management is CDC enabling here? The CDC’s advice is actively bad, and if you follow it, it could be lethal. Meanwhile, we have three different agencies pursuing three different theories of transmission, making the whole situation even more shambolic. Thank you, adults in the room!

NOTES

[1] For good measure, and just to make sure nobody misses the point, CDC has a second version of this page, but more sloppily drafted.

APPENDIX

Just in case anybody didn’t get the memo, here it is:

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