Is this truly a case of yes, we can’t? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, started off a tweet on December 30 by saying, “We can’t stop the spread of #COVID19,” as you can see here:
She continued the tweet by stating, “But pre-departure testing and the requirement to show a negative test result when flying from China to the U.S. can help slow the spread as we work to identify and understand any potential new variants.” Her tweet then included a link to the CDC’s “Amended Order: Implementing Presidential Proclamation on Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic” website.
That tweet didn’t exactly get a “Yes, we can’t” response from everyone on Twitter. For example, Lucky Tran, PhD, an organizer for the March for Science and a science communicator at Columbia University, couldn’t mask his concerns about two of the things that Walensky had said:
Tran tweeted to Walensky, “You could easily mitigate the spread of COVID and make it safer for all travelers by reinstating the mask mandate for public transportation.” He added, “Instead, you are choosing an ineffective policy that will only lead to more xenophobia and hate attacks against Asian people in the US.” Katie Mack, PhD, a theoretical astrophysicist who currently holds the position of Hawking Chair in Cosmology and Science Communication at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, then threw in not one, not two, but three 100 per cents in response to Tran’s response.
Meanwhile, Shikha Jain MD, FACP, an Associate Professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago, wondered why this new testing requirement was being limited to those flying in from China when the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is actively spreading in many parts of the world:
As you can see, Jain indicated that “As long as there are no mask mandates, everyone should be required to show proof of a negative COVID test prior to flying.”
Of course, face mask use isn’t the only intervention that can help prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2. For example, Irene Tosetti, MD MBA MPH, mentioned not only N95 masks but also air purification:
Remember the whole Swiss Cheese model that Ian M. Mackay, PhD, a scientist and an adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, advanced back in 2020? That model wasn’t made out of real Swiss Cheese (which would have been delicious) but instead was a metaphor to emphasize the fact that no single intervention was going to be enough to tackle the pandemic. Each policy and intervention has its holes. And, in this case as well as in general, it’s a good idea to cover up your holes. This can be done by combining or layering different policies and interventions on top of each other. This means better coordinating things like testing, surveillance, vaccination, face mask use, air filtration and purification, and treatment.
A number of Twitterers felt that, “We can’t stop the spread,” wasn’t exactly the right language to use, especially the middle of the triple-demic of Covid-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that’s occurring in the U.S. right now. For example, @DailyJLee described it as “loser-speak” in the following tweet:
Yeah, saying “We can’t stop our opponents” wouldn’t exactly make for a great locker room speech during the halftime of a football game. Maybe Walensky meant something more like, “We can’t completely eliminate Covid-19?”
The question, though, is why even start such a tweet with a “We can’t” statement? What will it accomplish, assuming that the plan isn’t to just give up trying to prevent Covid-19? As is the case with the last several miles in a marathon or the last quarter in a basketball game, what’s needed are motivational words to help keep everyone motivated. With so many mixed messages flying out of politicians’ and TV, radio, and podcasting personalities’ mouths these days, any type of “we can’t” statement can be easily misinterpreted as a “why even bother” statement, regardless of the original intention. The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly not over but many people seem over with doing anything about it. And such approaches may not help with getting over the last part of the pandemic.