A Kaiser Health News / PolitiFact fact check says the claim that it’s time to get back to normal is false.

The claim that it is time to abandon precautions runs counter to current public health strategies.

(File photo by Rick Egan | Tribune) Utah Jazz fans wear masks at Vivint Arena for NBA action between the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks, January 29, 2021. A Kaiser Health News fact check concludes, no, it’s not time to go back to normal.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News in association with PolitiFact.
A popular Facebook and blog post by conservative radio host Buck Sexton claims that scientific research indicates that life should return to normal now despite the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is what science tells anyone who is honest about it: open schools, stop wearing masks outside, and all low-risk people should start living normal lives. Not next fall, not next year, now, ”reads the blog post, posted on Facebook on February 8.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation in its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook).

KHN-PolitiFact sent a message to Sexton via its Facebook page asking if it could provide evidence to support the statement, but received no response.

So we reviewed the scientific evidence and spoke with public health experts about Sexton’s post. In general, they disagreed and pointed to the ways in which it goes against current public health strategies.

Let’s look at it point by point.

‘Opening the schools’

In March, when government and public health leaders realized that the new coronavirus was spreading across the United States, many public institutions, including schools, were ordered closed to prevent further spread. A large number of students finished the spring 2020 semester remotely. Some jurisdictions chose to reopen schools in the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021, although others have remained remote.

Throughout the pandemic, researchers have studied whether in-person learning in schools contributes significantly to the spread of COVID-19. Findings have shown that if K-12 schools adhere to mitigation measures (masking, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing), there is a relatively low risk of transmission.

And getting children back into the classroom is a high priority for the Biden administration.
At a press conference at the White House on February 3, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data suggests that “schools can safely reopen.” The CDC published on February 12 guidance on how schools should approach reopening. Recommends standard risk mitigation measures, as well as universal masking, contact tracing, creating student learning groups or groups, testing and monitoring for community transmission of the virus.
Susan Hassig, associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University, said science shows that schools can be safely opened if “mitigation measures are implemented and maintained in the school space.”

Here is some of the latest research that tracks these positions:

  • Only seven COVID-19 cases out of 191 were traced to in-school spread in 17 rural Wisconsin K-12 schools that had high mask-wearing compliance and were monitored during the fall semester of 2020.
  • The Mississippi researchers found that the majority of coronaviruses in children and adolescents were associated with gatherings outside of homes and a lack of consistent use of masks in schools, but not with mere school or daycare attendance.
  • Thirty-two cases were associated with school attendance for every 100,000 students and staff members in 11 North Carolina schools, where students were required to wear masks, practice physical distancing and wash their hands frequently.

Of course, there are some limitations to these studies, which are often based on contact tracing, a process that cannot always determine where cases originate. Some of the studies are also based on people’s self-assessment of mask use, which could be inaccurate.

Additionally, Hassig noted that not all school districts have the resources, such as high-quality physical space, staff, or masks, to open safely.

Sexton’s claim that schools can reopen misses a key fact: that safe reopening relies heavily on the use of mitigation measures that have been shown to reduce the spread of the virus.

‘Stop wearing masks outside’

Because the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is relatively new, research on wearing masks outdoors is limited. But so far, science has shown that face masks prevent transmission of the virus.

The CDC study published on February 10 reported that a medical procedure mask (commonly known as a surgical mask) blocked 56.1% of simulated cough particles. A cloth mask blocked 51.4% of the cough particles. And the effectiveness rose to 85.4% if a cloth mask was worn over a surgical mask.
Another experiment in the study showed that a person wearing a mask emits fewer aerosol particles than can be transmitted to a person without a mask. And if both are masked, the aerosol exposure to both is reduced by more than 95%. A multitude of reports also show more generally that the use of masks is effective in reducing the risk of spreading or contracting other respiratory diseases.

Sexton’s post, however, advised that people should stop wearing masks outside. Without a doubt, public health experts agree that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is lower outdoors than indoors. But experts also said that doesn’t mean people should stop wearing masks.

“The wind can help you a little outside, but you still run the risk of breathing this virus from the people around you,” said Dr. Rachel Vreeman, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. . .
Being outdoors “is not a guarantee of safety,” reiterated Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center. “Especially when those people without masks are very close together.”
The CDC addressed the question of whether masks are needed outdoors in the agency’s mask guidelines: “Masks may not be necessary when you are outside alone, away from other people, or with other people living in your home. However, some areas may have mask mandates while in public, so check the rules in your local area. “

In general, the prevailing scientific opinion is that while it may be okay to go out without a mask if you are physically distant from others, wearing a mask is still recommended if you are around other people.

‘All low-risk people should start living normal lives’

All the public health experts we consulted agreed that this part of the statement is absolutely false. It goes against what scientists recommend that be done to overcome the pandemic.

While it is not clear what exactly the post with “low risk” means, suppose it refers to people who are younger or without health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. And that “leading a normal life” refers to stopping wearing masks, physically moving away, or washing hands more often.

News reports and scientific evidence show that bars, parties, and other large gatherings can quickly turn into outreach events. Additionally, even young people and those without pre-existing health conditions have become seriously ill with COVID-19 or have died from it.

Even if a low-risk person does not get seriously ill, they could still infect other people in higher-risk groups.

The sentiment of this post is similar to calls at the beginning of the pandemic to allow life to return to normal in an attempt to achieve herd immunity. But on the way to achieving that goal, many would die, said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Everyone going back to ‘normal’ right now, especially in the presence of more communicable and deadliest variants, would be a recipe for more public health disasters in addition to what we have already experienced,” he added.

Almost half a million Americans have already died of COVID-19.

The drive to “get back to normal” is precisely what allowed the new variants to form and multiply, Vreeman said. “If we can increase vaccination of people and keep wearing masks in the meantime, only then will we have a chance to return to ‘normal’.”

In fact, due to the new variants circulating in the United States, Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have urged Americans not to give up their efforts to control the spread of the virus.

A blog post by conservative talk show host Buck Sexton claims that scientific evidence shows that right now we should “open schools, stop wearing masks outside, and all low-risk people should start living normal lives. “.

Scientific research shows that for schools to reopen safely, risk mitigation measures must be implemented, such as requiring masks, rigorous hand washing, and limiting the number of students in classrooms. However, these changes would not represent a return to normal, but a new normal for students and teachers.

The rest of Sexton’s statement departs further from current science. Research indicates that you are safer outdoors than indoors, but public health experts still recommend wearing masks in public, even outdoors. Science does not support the idea that it is the right time for some people to resume normal life. That would allow the virus to continue to spread and have a great human toll in hospitalizations and deaths, experts said.

Sexton’s post is inaccurate. We rate it as false.


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