Americans navigating the COVID-19 pandemic during the latest virus surge say frequent changes in federal guidelines don’t make their lives any easier. And they aren’t alone in their frustration.
The concerns come as new case counts, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in most states. Some prominent health experts who have stood by the CDC and its science-based decisions since the beginning of the pandemic are now criticizing the agency for poor communication.
The agency’s “messaging problem” can be divided into three main issues, health experts said, the biggest of which is inconsistent transparency.
On every policy update, the CDC must back up its decision with clear data and translate the science so the general public can understand it, said Thomas Hipper, associate director of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health.
When announcing the new isolation guidelines on Dec. 27, CDC officials failed to specifically cite the science, Hipper said.
“Simply announcing the change and trying to explain it without the clear rationale leaves you exposed to questioning,” he said. “Letting the public see those imperfect choices helps justify why the decision was made.”
Health experts said the second issue contributing to the CDC’s messaging problem is that local health departments and national organizations feel left out of the agency’s decision-making.
Finally, experts said, the CDC has left itself open to charges that it lacks accountability. The agency has reiterated the science of the pandemic is evolving, and although that is true, health experts say the CDC still needs to acknowledge its errors in that space of inherent uncertainty.
“It humanizes this effort, and it would go a long way in building back trust,” Hipper said. “There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging that, ‘Hey, we didn’t get everything right, but we’re committed to getting it as right as we can.’”
Also in the news:
►New Jersey COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 28% since Jan. 2. And the number of people needing a ventilator rose to 500 Monday — a 71% jump in that period.
►Novak Djokovic acknowledged Wednesday that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information, and he also confessed to an “error of judgment” in taking part in an interview and photoshoot in Serbia last month after testing positive for COVID-19.
►The U.S. Army, for the first time, is offering a maximum enlistment bonus of $50,000 to recruits who join for six years as the service struggles to lure soldiers into critical jobs amid the pandemic, according to The Associated Press.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 62.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 843,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 315 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading: Should you swab your throat with an at-home COVID test amid omicron? This is why experts say no.
Infections, hospitalizations, deaths rising in almost every state
The pace of newly reported COVID-19 in the United States is still rising, with an average of more than 9 cases every second in the last week. The country reported more than 5.5 million cases in the week ending Wednesday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. That is up from 5.3 million in the seven-day period that ended Tuesday.
The analysis shows that compared to a week before, 47 states had rising case counts, 38 states had rising death counts, and 49 states had more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds. The country now has more than 152,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, federal data shows, with about 25,200 in intensive-care beds.
– Mike Stucka
More kids in America are testing positive for the coronavirus as the nation hits records in cases and hospitalizations. Children have made up more than 7 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The USA has seen more than 60 million cases overall.
Given the “astonishing number of new infections” in children each day, University of South Florida epidemiology professor Jason Salemi expects to see more children being hospitalized for COVID-19 in the coming weeks. Fortunately, due to the relatively mild symptoms in most omicron patients, the vast majority of these cases won’t be too severe, experts say. You can find details and data on kids and COVID here.
– Janie Haseman and Aleszu Bajak
Just as a cresting wave of COVID-19 patients need care, hospitals are facing severe staffing issues because so many are either out sick themselves, caring for family members, or quarantining due to an exposure. About one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. One in four anticipated critical shortages within the next week. Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and New Hampshirehave less than 10% capacity remaining in their ICUs.
Physicians such as Chicago cancer surgeon Dr. Ryan Merkow must make wrenching decisions about who gets operated on and who must wait. He said Northwestern Memorial Hospital is “full of COVID patients. Our surgical floors have been converted to COVID floors.” Some cancer patients go through chemo and fly in family members to help with recovery.
“And then we have to pull the rug out from under them,” he said. Read more here.
– Elizabeth Weise and Kristen Jordan Shamus
The federal government is sending medical teams to six states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico — to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19, USA TODAY has learned.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce the deployments Thursday when discussing steps the administration is taking to address a surge in infections driven by the omicron variant, according to a White House official.
Facing pressure from even members of his own party to do more to get the pandemic under control, Biden’s new actions are expected to center on additional manpower.
— Maureen Groppe and Donovan Slack, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press