We need to forgive one another for what we did and said when we were in the dark about COVID.
In her latest article in The Atlantic, Brown University Professor Emily Oster is arguing that we should just forgive and forget, and in classic gaslighting form, wants to pretend that it's because no one had any idea of what was going on.
[Outdoor mask wearing and social distancing] precautions were totally misguided. In April 2020, no one got the coronavirus from passing someone else hiking. Outdoor transmission was vanishingly rare. Our cloth masks made out of old bandanas wouldn’t have done anything, anyway. But the thing is: We didn’t know.
Yes, we did. We most certainly did know that masking of healthy people in the community was pointless. Tony Fauci told us. The Surgeon General told us. The NEJM, WHO and many, many others all told us some version of "healthy people wearing masks in public is unnecessary." But even if you want to use ignorance as the reason to force masks on everyone (which is the opposite of what should be required to employ such a draconian measure), the case data told us very quickly that the masks weren't having the desired effect, and yet the mask mandates largely persisted for another year (and in some places still haven't been lifted). At that point ignorance is no longer a valid excuse.
But in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people—people who cared about children and teachers—advocated on both sides of the reopening debate.
Glimmers of information? We had plenty of data from multiple countries plus our own. Sweden never closed their schools. Denmark, Finland and others quickly reopened after a short close. We knew definitively that children were at an exceptionally low risk from COVID and that the schools that stayed open had not seen cases/deaths/etc to be worse overall than countries who had closed their schools. But despite having such strong scientific data, the debate to open schools in the fall was met with heavy resistance, largely from administrators and teachers who had been acting as if COVID was basically Ebola.
When the vaccines came out, we lacked definitive data on the relative efficacies of the Johnson & Johnson shot versus the mRNA options from Pfizer and Moderna. The mRNA vaccines have won out. But at the time, many people in public health were either neutral or expressed a J&J preference. This misstep wasn’t nefarious. It was the result of uncertainty.
That the efficacy battle between vax structures was the only vax mention in the article and not the overall efficacy of the mRNA shot in preventing illness/transmission, or any mention of vax mandates and the fact that people were fired from their jobs over a personal medical decision is extremely telling. Prof Oster wants us to move on, but we still can't get those in power to admit that they based their decision on misinformation spread from the highest positions of power.
Remember when the public-health community had to spend a lot of time and resources urging Americans not to inject themselves with bleach? That was bad. Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.
It's incredibly interesting that of all the examples of misinformation that were available she chose the example that was a political smear tactic employed by the mainstream media against President Trump. That was certainly not done "for the good of society."
People who were right
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck.
The culture wars she's concerned about were started by people who acted with such conviction and belief they were so correct (if you attack me, you're really attacking science) that anyone who disagreed with them didn't deserve to speak. In a shock to no one who understood what was happening, it was also those people that turned out to be the most wrong on the most things. Also, the argument that there was a great deal of luck involved in being right ignores that this wasn't our first run in with a respiratory pandemic; it wasn't labeled SARS-CoV2 for nothing. Countries already had respiratory viral pandemic plans that laid out the scientific and data-backed approaches, but rather than follow those plans many countries instead threw them in the dumpster and went full-on authoritarian.
And let's not forget how authoritarian these people went and were willing to go. A short 9 months ago Rasmussen reported that Democratic voters supported the following COVID policies (emphasis mine):
- Fines for the unvaccinated: 42% percent would favor a proposal for federal or state governments to fine Americans who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- House arrest: 59% would favor a government policy requiring that citizens remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies, if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Imprisonment for questioning the vaccine: 48% think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications.
- Forced quarantine: 45% would favor governments requiring citizens to temporarily live in designated facilities or locations if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Stripping people of their children: 29% would support temporarily removing parents’ custody of their children if parents refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s much more than twice the level of support in the rest of the electorate – 7% of Republicans and 11% of unaffiliated voters – for such a policy.
Justice must be served
You realize what you supported was wrong and terribly destructive to millions of people and that's why you're asking for mercy now, but your entire missive is one long "it wasn't our fault, we were only doing what we were told!", and we've already heard that one before.
It didn't work then, and it won't work now.
Prof Oster, you want those who were demonized, mocked, attacked, punished, fired, ostracized, deplatformed, silenced, shouted down, and in general treated like absolute shit to just forget it all happened and move on while you haven't even offered any apology or taken a modicum of responsibility for the devastation you caused. It's why your plea for mercy is falling on deaf ears.
Would you be willing to do what you're asking of us if the roles were reversed?
Not a chance.
A way out
You and everyone like you that supported this destruction are owed everything that's coming to you and more. However, if you are truly in search of mercy, here's one option: Resign.
You and every politician, bureaucrat and individual in a position of authority step down and be replaced by someone who spoke the truth and was punished for it. Those individuals are more likely to make sure this never happens again.
That's better than you deserve.