Patterico's Pontifications


The Mixed-Messaging That Health Care Professionals “Grapple” With

Filed under: General — Dana @ 11:24 am

[guest post by Dana]

I’ve written about the conflict of health care professionals condemning protesters rallying against the lockdown (and to re-open the economy) and health care professionals sanctioning protests after the murder of George Floyd. In the latter, they often cited, not the science, but rather the greater good involved. Here’s a look at these health care workers “grapple” with trying to reconcile their conflicting views:

As the pandemic took hold, most epidemiologists have had clear proscriptions in fighting it: No students in classrooms, no in-person religious services, no visits to sick relatives in hospitals, no large public gatherings.

So when conservative anti-lockdown protesters gathered on state capitol steps in places like Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Michigan, in April and May, epidemiologists scolded them and forecast surging infections. When Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia relaxed restrictions on businesses in late April as testing lagged and infections rose, the talk in public health circles was of that state’s embrace of human sacrifice.

And then the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25 changed everything.

Soon the streets nationwide were full of tens of thousands of people in a mass protest movement that continues to this day, with demonstrations and the toppling of statues. And rather than decrying mass gatherings, more than 1,300 public health officials signed a May 30 letter of support, and many joined the protests.

That caused the public to ask: Was public health advice in a pandemic dependent on whether people approved of the mass gathering in question? For me, it’s an uphill climb to believe that the advice of any number of health care professionals wasn’t contingent upon a subjective view of the protests in question.

Journalist Thomas Chatterton Williams pinpoints the why:

The way the public health narrative around coronavirus has reversed itself overnight seems an awful lot like … politicizing science. What are we to make of such whiplash-inducing messaging?

But lets hear about the struggle for reconciling this whiplash-messaging from the professionals themselves:

Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, studies COVID-19. When, wearing a mask and standing at the edge of a great swell of people, she attended a recent protest in Houston supporting Floyd, a sense of contradiction tugged at her.

“I certainly condemned the anti-lockdown protests at the time, and I’m not condemning the protests now, and I struggle with that,” she said. “I have a hard time articulating why that is OK.”

Mark Lurie, a professor of epidemiology at Brown University, described a similar struggle.

“Instinctively, many of us in public health feel a strong desire to act against accumulated generations of racial injustice,” Lurie said. “But we have to be honest: A few weeks before, we were criticizing protesters for arguing to open up the economy and saying that was dangerous behavior.

“I am still grappling with that.”

To which Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, added: “Do I worry that mass protests will fuel more cases? Yes, I do. But a dam broke and there’s no stopping that.”

And about the letter that 1,300 epidemiologists and health care workers signed:

Some public health scientists publicly waved off the conflicted feelings of their colleagues, saying the country now confronts a stark moral choice. The letter signed by more than 1,300 epidemiologists and health workers urged Americans to adopt a “consciously anti-racist” stance and framed the difference between the anti-lockdown demonstrators and the protesters in moral, ideological and racial terms.

Those who protested stay-at-home orders were “rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives” the letter stated.

By contrast, it said, those protesting systemic racism “must be supported.”

“As public health advocates,” they stated, “we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health.”

Note: “There is as of yet no firm evidence that protests against police violence led to noticeable spikes in infection rates. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no overall rise in infections, but could not rule out that infections might have risen in the age demographic of the protesters. Health officials in Houston and Los Angeles have suggested the demonstrations there led to increased infections, but they have not provided data. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has instructed contact tracers not to ask if infected people attended protests.”

And yet health care professionals are willing to cast a vote for the “moral imperative,” no matter who it might impact, because it is seen as the greater good:

Mary Travis Bassett, who is African American, served as the New York City health commissioner and now directs the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. She noted that even before COVID-19, Black Americans were sicker and died more than two years earlier, on average, than white Americans.

And she noted, police violence has long cast a deep shadow over African Americans. From the auction block to plantations to centuries of lynchings carried out with the complicity of local law enforcement, blacks have suffered the devastating effects of state power.

She acknowledged that the current protests are freighted with moral complications, not least the possibility that a young person marching for justice might come home and inadvertently infect a mother, aunt or grandparent.

“If there’s an elder in the household, that person should be cocooned to the best extent that we can,” Bassett said.

But she said the opportunity to achieve a breakthrough transcends such worries about the virus.

“Racism has been killing people a lot longer than COVID-19,” she said. “The willingness to say we all bear the burden of that is deeply moving to me.”

Nicholas A. Christakis, professor of social and natural science at Yale University, observes that there are actually two moral imperatives involved for health care professionals: To comfort the afflicted and to speak truth about risks to public health, no matter how unpleasant.

To that end he says that those two values are now in conflict:

To take to the street to protest injustice is to risk casting open doors and letting the virus endanger tens of thousands, he said. There is a danger, he said, in asserting that one moral imperative overshadows another.

“The left and the right want to wish the virus away,” Christakis said. “We can’t wish away…inconvenient scientific truths.”

He said that framing the anti-lockdown protests as white supremacist and dangerous and the George Floyd protests as anti-racist and essential obscures a messier reality.

When he was a hospice doctor in Chicago and Boston, he said, he saw up close how isolation deepened the despair of the dying — a fate now suffered by many in the pandemic, with hospital visits severely restricted. For epidemiologists to turn around and argue for loosening the ground rules for the George Floyd marches risks sounding hypocritical.

“We allowed thousands of people to die alone,” he said. “We buried people by Zoom. Now all of a sudden we are saying, never mind?”


18 Responses to “The Mixed-Messaging That Health Care Professionals “Grapple” With”

  1. Good morning.

    Dana (25e0dc)

  2. Excellent post, Dana. We seem to read the same people.

    Simon Jester (8378a9)

  3. Thanks, Simon. I suspect we do!

    Dana (25e0dc)

  4. Stop the bug; start wearing the mask.

    End of story.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  5. If only certain pastors had “grappled with” their decisions a bit more.

    I do find it refreshing that more people are realizing various social roles the tee vee tells us are To Be Listened To are made out of people. A slightly wider net might bring even more enlightenment.

    john (cd2753)

  6. it’s just another football, the elect like neil ferguson write rules he cannot abide be, the cdc played sjw games, before the outbreak, then after the first wave,

    narciso (7404b5)

  7. it’s just another football, the elect like neil ferguson write rules he cannot abide be, the cdc played sjw games, before the outbreak, then after the first wave,

    I used the gibberish translator, it also couldn’t make heads or tails of this.

    dit’s quich axanethol beetfaxarr, zo orond riko joir bolgusen drito luros who caxannet axafido fo, zo cdc praxayow sjw kaxamos, fobelo zo eutfloaxak, zon axabtol zo bilch waxavo

    I mean, that makes a bit more sense, but only a tiny bet.

    Colonel Klink (Ret) (305827)

  8. 4. Four months ago it was “flatten the curve.” Now it’s “stop the bug.”

    I will not comply.

    Gryph (08c844)

  9. ferguson screwed his girl friend, like he screwed the uk and this country, the cdc was focused on obesity racism, everything except its charter of identifying and treating infections, like malaria when it was founded in 1946, they use dubious science behind social distancing procedures and mask wearing, to justify draconian measures,

    narciso (7404b5)

  10. What’s the over/under on Rip spamming this thread?

    I say comment 19.

    Place your bets.

    beer ‘n pretzels (b27f61)

  11. the who cynically using the surgisphere and nejm to foreclose promising inexpensive readily available treatments like the hcq cocktail, in favor of more expensive treatments with less effectiveness like remdesvir, of course the compromised nature of the who leadership, down to their wuhan point person,

    narciso (7404b5)

  12. Colonel Klink (Ret) (305827) — 7/6/2020 @ 12:22 pm

    Pretty much everyone here understands your misfortune, some are co-sufferers. If you are looking for sympathy, try acting sympathetic.

    I, for one, have had little trouble understanding narciso, because I understand that “some assembly required” is in play. The most common complaints arise when assemblers lack a tool that the “kit” does not supply. This is not so much a defect of the manufacturer as it is a choice of “economy of delivery.” Then, again, some assemblers think that a hammer is all they need to assemble any kit.

    My advice: Choose a different kit to assemble.

    felipe (023cc9)

  13. I am not a racist so I’m sick of being called one. But look if we don’t count the infections amoung these rioters then why is it so bad for the president to slow testing as well. It will be a disaster if these radical marxists take over in an election year. Say goodbye to the American way of life people, it will all be taken from you like our statues and the flags.

    F. George Dunham, III (8c8784)

  14. narciso (7404b5) — 7/6/2020 @ 12:35 pm

    This is narciso supplying customer support.

    felipe (023cc9)

  15. beer ‘n pretzels (b27f61) — 7/6/2020 @ 12:39 pm

    HA! Funny.

    I’ll play. first one, 17. then 20, 21, 24.

    That’s my four-leg parlay.

    felipe (023cc9)

  16. I am not a racist so I’m sick of being called one. But look if we don’t count the infections amoung these rioters then why is it so bad for the president to slow testing as well. It will be a disaster if these radical marxists take over in an election year. Say goodbye to the American way of life people, it will all be taken from you like our statues and the flags.

    First, you shouldn’t steal people’s online identity.

    Second, if you want to be called a racist less, stop wearing your Klan Kostume out in public. That would probably help.

    Also, which flag are you talking about, be specific.

    Colonel Klink (Ret) (305827)

  17. “ stop wearing your Klan Kostume out in public.“

    Kartoon kommenters are the kookiest.

    harkin (ca2d1a)

  18. OOOh, I lost my bet! If the next comment is Rip’s, then you win,B&P!

    felipe (023cc9)

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