Jesus wants you to sing in indoor groups and spread death

Let’s talk more about this awful, awful, awful decision from the CDC about singing in church.  If we know one thing about superspreader events, church (especially with singing) is bad!  People will die.  That’s not hyperbole.  There’s been a series of these events and they’ve invariably led not to just infections, but deaths (possibly because of the potential for immense viral load being spread while singing– might as well be a continuous sneezing fit).  Derek Thompson summarizes:

The Post with more on this abominable decision:

The Trump administration with no advance notice removed warnings contained in guidance for the reopening of houses of worship that singing in choirs can spread the coronavirus.

Last Friday, the administration released pandemic guidance for faith communities after weeks of debate flared between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines posted on the CDC website included recommendations that religious communities “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition.”

It added: “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

By Saturday, that version was replaced by updated guidance that no longer includes any reference to choirs or congregant singing and the risk for spreading virus. The altered guidance also deleted a reference to “shared cups” among items, including hymnals and worship rugs, that should not be shared. The updated guidelines also added language that said the guidance “is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about policy discussions, said there have long been concerns within the White House that there were too many restrictions on choirs. A CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the guideline change also said the updated Saturday guidance was approved by the White House.

Ahhhh, ” too many restrictions on choirs.”  Morons!!!  That’s because choirs are uniquely well-suited for spreading Covid!

Earlier this month, the CDC issued a report warning about “superspreader” events where the coronavirus might be “highly transmissible in certain settings, including group singing events.” That report described a choir practice in Washington state in March at which one person ended up infecting 52 other people, including two who died.

White House officials battled for weeks with CDC aides about the scope of reopening guidelines. Officials in Vice President Pence’s office, the domestic policy council and other members on the president’s coronavirus task force were resistant to establishing limits on religious institutions even as the CDC issued detailed road maps for reopening other settings, including schools and restaurants, and as the agency warned of the dangers of significant virus transmission rates at religious events.

Some officials in the White House and on the coronavirus task force did not want to alienate the evangelical community and believed that some of the proposals, such as limits on hymnals, the size of choirs or the passing of collection plates, were too restrictive, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy decisions.
God forbid we alienate the Evangelical community by following… science!!!  They know better; they know Jesus wants them to spread Covid. 

I saw somebody sharing some CDC guidelines on something else today, and sadly, we really just cannot trust the CDC to the same degree any more.  Bernstein on the horrible shame of that:

It’s amazing how quickly the CDC has squandered its reputation for straight-shooting and scientific excellence during Donald Trump’s presidency (the latest embarrassments are here and here). There’s a lot to say about this and similar failures across the federal government, but what strikes me is what they reveal about healthy incentives — and how Trump manages to ignore them.

First, having an agency with a gold-standard reputation is a terrific resource for leaders who care about getting their way and also care about re-election. It allows them to speak with the authority of experts even if they themselves are relatively ignorant. It also gives them an opportunity to have most of the nation, and not just their supporters, at least potentially support their policies, since those policies can have the certificate of expertise attached to them. 

That matters. It matters desperately for Trump right now. His obvious goals are to reduce the spread of the virus while rebooting the economy as quickly as possible; for that, he needs ordinary citizens to follow best practices for safety and also to trust that it is safe to return to activities they gave up in March. And he needs strong supporters, strong opponents, and everyone in between to do both of those things, or else it won’t work. No politician is ever able to do that on his or her own. But trusted experts make it possible for the president to get it done.

To be sure, there’s a cost. For a president to get the seal of approval from experts, he or she has to listen seriously to them. This may mean compromising the president’s preferred approach. If the president simply ignores the experts but tries to use their reputation anyway, the agency’s bureaucrats may refuse to endorse the policy, or undermine it through such strategies as press leaks or testimony to Congress. Or, if the president succeeds in undermining the agency’s integrity enough that it will slavishly grant his every whim, its reputation — and thus its political usefulness — will be destroyed.

Notice that healthy incentives are built into the system. Agencies care about their reputations for reasons of professional pride, but also because it benefits them at budget time and helps them do their jobs without outside interference. And presidents have good self-interested reason to listen to those agencies. That’s a way to force politicians who care mainly about elections to seek expert input into policy…

Trump, unfortunately, is so bad at presidenting that he fails to follow those clear healthy incentives. To be fair, he did seem to take some expert advice seriously for two or three weeks in April. But he rapidly lost interest, and either he or others in the White House seem to have pressured agencies to go along with him even as he ignores their counsel. Now he wants the economy to reopen safely, but he has no idea how to get there from here, and he doesn’t have the assets the presidency once had. It’s not apt to work very well for the nation, or for him.

So, to summarize– president totally undermining the reputation of one of the most important public health institutions in the world (and damn does reputation matter when we are talking public health) to spread death among science-denying Evangelicals.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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