The Ever-Changing Political Science Of Mask Mandates
Pittsburgh Public School Officials Duck Their Responsibilities To Obey The CDC
Pittsburgh schools are back to wearing face masks.
Why? The CDC says things are bad there. And we all know the CDC is never wrong.
The district said that's because Allegheny County has moved into the medium COVID-19 transmission level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Community Levels
In their never-ending quest to dumb down the “science” of the Pandemic Panic Narrative, earlier this year the CDC rolled out their “Community Levels” gauge, allowing for a county-level assessment of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in that area. (Apparently, county-level dashboards which Allegheny County has aren’t good enough?)
Health officials and individuals should consider current information about COVID-19 hospitalizations in the community, as well as the potential for strain on the local health system and COVID-19 cases in the community, when making decisions about community prevention strategies and individual behaviors. Communities and individuals should also make decisions based on whether they are at high risk for severe disease and take into account inequities in access to prevention strategies.
COVID-19 Community Levels can help communities and individuals make decisions based on their local context and their unique needs. Community vaccination coverage and other local information, like early alerts from surveillance, such as through wastewater or the number of emergency department visits for COVID-19, when available, can also inform decision making for health officials and individuals.
You have to admire the government doublespeak and contradictory logic at play here. First the guidance says that local health officials should consider current information within the community—i.e., look at the county COVID-19 dashboard—when making public health decisions. Then in the very next paragraph, the CDC says “let us give you the right decision”.
Essentially, the role of the CDC Community Levels gauge is to eradicate independent critical thinking among local public health officials. Based on the reporting from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the gauge is working perfectly.
The Community Levels thresholds are simple and straightforward.
The more people who get admitted to hospital for COVID-19, and the more people occupying inpatient hospital beds for same, the higher the level. Simple and straightforward, and takes all the guesswork away from those overworked local public health officials.
What Does Allegheny County’s COVID-19 Data Say?
Let’s follow the first part of the CDC guidance and consider the local data on cases and hospitalizations in Allegheny County, straight off their official county dashhboard:
According to the dashboard, the 7-day moving average for cases is 315 per day.
However, the graphed data stops last week. The last date for which there is case data is May 7. Additionally, when one looks at the cases day by day, from May 5 onward, cases have been declining. Their dashboard is a little clunky, but the data set is downloadable as a comma-delimited file, and thus here is how the case data displays graphically.
Note the significant declines in confirmed cases for the last few days of data. Even with just a couple of days of decline, the drop off is steep enough to begin flattening out the moving average curve.
Did the data continue to decline after May 7? We don’t know. The downloadable data stops at May 7, and the graphs on the dashboard stop at May 7. We have no data on what has been happening this week, although one would not be at all surprised to see a multi-day downward trend persist. The moving average calculated from the actual data should plateau and then itself start declining.
If we go by the reported 7-day moving average cases of 315 cases, Allegheny County at first glance certainly appears to be above the 200 cases per 100,000 that moves the level automatically to “medium”.
Except…the Allegheny County dashboard does not report the data per 100,000. According to the dashboard, the 7-day moving average for the entire county is 315 per day—not per 100,000, but just per day. The only place on the dashboard that discusses cases per 100,000 is in the “hover” notes in the “Overall” section.
According to the US Census, Allegheny County has a population of 1,250,578 as of 2020. That makes the 7 day moving average of cases per 100,000 approximately 25 .
Where the dashboard does make reference to cases per 100,000, it uses a population estimate of 1,221,744. Which makes the 7-day moving average of cases per 100,000 just under 26.
Going by the Allegheny County dashboard means the CDC Community Levels are wrong by their own metrics. Allegheny County is not “medium”, but low—extremely low in fact.
The CDC made a mistake. How…shocking? (No, not really.)
Yet the CDC reports the 7 day moving average of cases for Allegheny County as 222 per 100,000, which is how they earn the “medium” rating. If the Allegheny County dashboard is accurate (and there is no apparent reason to presume that it isn’t), the CDC metric cannot be correct. If the Allegheny County dashboard is correct, the CDC metric is overstated by nearly a multiple of 10.
Either the CDC is in error, or Allegheny County is in error. There is no third option.
Allegheny County Ignored Its Own Data
Much as was the case in Los Angeles, Allegheny County officials simply ignored their own data and bent the knee to the CDC.
We know this is what happened not just because of the media reporting, but because of tweets by Pam Harbin, Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education Director for District 4.
This is what passes among Allegheny County public school officials for “considering current information” about COVID-19. No use of complex math (such as division to get a case number per 100,000). No looking at the raw data. Just a reflexive checking of the CDC website and obeying the will of the “experts”—who apparently also do not bother to do complex math (such as division).
This Time, It’s Not About The Mask Mandate
Bizarrely enough, this time the issue really isn’t the mask mandate itself. Face masks are still as functionally useless as they were in 2020, but by far the bigger concern here is that local officials are both not using their own data—which taxpayers pay to have generated—and are not insisting that data be vetted for accuracy and timeliness.
For myself, if I’m paying good money for information, I insist that the information be accurate, timely, and relevant. It’s a personality quirk of mine, this insisting on value for my hard-earned lucre.
Elected officials at every level of government are expressly and explicitly charged with being good stewards of the public fisc. They have an ethical mandate at the very least to spend taxpayer dollars with a modicum of prudence. They have an ethical mandate at the very least to perform at least some due diligence to ensure the taxpayers are getting value for their tax dollars.
(Yes, I have high expectations for government)
At the very least, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the public school officials are not measuring up to that mandate. They are not husbanding taxpayer dollars prudently, and they are not using local information to make local decisions as the CDC expressly instructs local officials to do. They certainly aren’t auditing the COVID-19 data for the county to ensure its accuracy.
While the CDC Community Levels scheme is pedestrian Faucist foolishness on a good day, the problem in Allegheny County for once isn’t Faucism. The problem in Allegheny County is ordinary and even banal indolence and ineptitude. The problem is public officials who aren’t paying attention to their own precincts.
Democracy is supposed to do better than that. So much for high expectations.