New York Times covid-beat reporter Apoorva Mandavilli’s overheated lead story on Saturday, “Immunized People Can Spread Virus, the C.D.C. Reports – Cases Among Vaccinated Are Relatively Rare and Tend to Be less Severe,” seized upon rushed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control to push once again for universal masking.
The numbers from a comprehensive study of a virus outbreak over the July 4th holiday in the packed coastal resort town of Provincetown, Mass., in fact look disappointing, even alarming at first glance. But are the figures really as bad as the Times wants us to think?
Mandavilli’s coronavirus coverage is notoriously partisan and pessimistic, and her latest prominent piece has a five-alarm fire feel belied by the relatively calm headline deck from the print edition.
In yet another unexpected and unwelcome twist in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Friday a report strongly suggesting that fully immunized people with so-called breakthrough infections of the Delta variant can spread the virus to others just as readily as unvaccinated people.
The vaccines remain powerfully effective against severe illness and death, and the agency said infections in vaccinated people were comparatively rare. But the revelation follows a series of other recent findings about the Delta variant that have upended scientists’ understanding of the coronavirus.
In the new report, which was intended to explain the agency’s sudden revision to its masking advice for vaccinated Americans, the C.D.C. described an outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., this month that quickly mushroomed to 470 cases in Massachusetts alone, as of Thursday.
An internal agency document, which was obtained on Thursday night by The Times, suggested even greater alarm among C.D.C. scientists and raised harrowing questions about the virus and its trajectory.
The Delta variant is about as contagious as chickenpox, the document noted, and universal masking may become necessary. Still, breakthrough infections overall are infrequent, according to the agency.
The gathering research into the variant throws into disarray the country’s plans to return to offices and schools this fall, and revives difficult questions about masking, testing and other precautions that Americans had hoped were behind them.
It’s worth noting that this disturbing, super-spreader holiday in Provincetown resulted in a total of four hospitalizations (two of which were with pre-existing health conditions) and zero deaths.
The panicky tone held.
Indeed, the questions now facing Americans seem nearly inexhaustible, almost insoluble. Should companies have employees return to workplaces if vaccinated people might, on occasion, spread the variant? What does this mean for shops, restaurants and schools? Are unmasked family gatherings again off the table?
An earlier report by Mandavilli also began melodramatically.
The Delta variant is much more contagious, more likely to break through protections afforded by the vaccines and may cause more severe disease than all other known versions of the virus, according to an internal presentation circulated within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention….the internal document lays out a broader and even grimmer view of the variant.
Allahpundit at Hot Air, who tends toward Covid pessimism, read the CDC findings and his analysis is worth reading. He thinks the report’s results are being overstated and the amazing power of the vaccines are being understated.
Having now read through it, I have the same reaction as Greg Pollowitz: “[W]hat the CDC data on Provincetown actually shows is that even under perfect conditions for a superspreader event, the vaccine works spectacularly well.”
He also noted the difference between cases, which involve actual tests, vs. asymptomatic infections that go unrecorded. Generally, people with symptoms are far more likely to be tested. He writes, “If vaccinated people aren’t infecting others when they’re asymptomatic then Delta is much less of a threat than the CDC made it seem. And the study acknowledges that towards the end: ‘[A]symptomatic breakthrough infections might be underrepresented because of detection bias.’”