No, the CDC was not “lying” about COVID-19 all along

It can be difficult to remember now, but one of the things that defined the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was how much we did not know about the virus, how it spread, and how lethal it was. It was caused by a novel coronavirus, meaning that it was something new to humans. In hindsight, some of the restrictions put in place by the government were too harsh and caused more damage than necessary. But again, there was a lot we did not know. Hindsight is always 20/20.

When the Centers for Disease Control lifted some COVID-19 restrictions last month, some conservatives declared that this was “proof” that the Centers for Disease Control was “lying” the entire time. Well, no, that is not what it proved. What it proved was that new data and changing facts on the ground (fewer cases and more vaccinations) means that the policy can change.

Was the CDC too cautious? Were they too slow to change guidelines, especially on masks for vaccinated people? The answer to both questions is “yes.” But being overly cautious is not the same as “lying” about the disease and what policies actually were necessary to limit the spread and save lives.

Part of the problem is that we fail to understand the position that public health officials were in and the pressures they faced. People were dying from a virus we had never seen in humans before and they were trying to save lives. Of course human beings are going to make mistakes in that process. Furthermore, elected officials set policy, not the CDC. It is the responsibility of elected officials to balance recommendations from the CDC against the harm done by closing businesses and schools, or other restrictions.

Of course there are bad actors in the COVID-19 pandemic response. They have put virtue signaling over policy, undermined public trust in vaccines for political gain, openly lied about the effectiveness of masks early in the pandemic, failed to protect the most vulnerable and lied about it, and exploited the pandemic to expand their own power. All of this deserves to be condemned.

That does not mean, however, that the Centers for Disease Control was “lying” about the dangers of COVID-19 all along. You can disagree with policy recommendations, and even point to evidence that the recommendations were wrong, without assuming that doctors and virologists who made those recommendations were lying. Can we please try to be a little more charitable before throwing the entire public health establishment under the bus?