Government Actors Try to Deflect, Deny and “Move On” from Failures During COVID

Courtesy CBS rendering of two CDC spring of 2021 survey findings about American high school girls reported Monday, Feb 13, 2022

by James C. Sherlock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in full self-defense mode.

CDC and the left backed, indeed insisted, upon social isolation during the pandemic.

Now they deflect and deny agency in the consequences. They continue to try to insulate themselves from the catastrophic educational and mental health effects on children and adolescents of that social isolation.

A weakened CDC Director is pledging to overhaul the agency and its culture, a backhanded admission of the unimaginably bad performance of CDC during COVID.

The entrenched bureaucracy that is that agency and its culture is admitting nothing. They are counting the days until she leaves.

So, if experience counts for anything, we pretty much know how the CDC “overhaul” will work out.

Virginia is due for the same sort of review of state actions during COVID.

The Northam administration stumbled badly at nearly every new turn after failing to either exercise or implement Virginia’s own pandemic emergency plan. Which was excellent and predicted nearly exactly the course of events.

Then they tried to cover up the existence of that plan itself.

I am not sure that such a review is forthcoming. If it is, it will be preemptively be declared political. It must be done anyway.

The federal government, under progressive management, is “moving on.”

Or trying to.

I hope Virginia government does not make the same mistake.

My article Bias and Risk in Behavioral Polls and Studies – A Cautionary Tale for Public Policy raised among our commenters on the left attempts to defend against criticism the CDC’s (and their own) public policy prescriptions during COVID.

Shutdowns and masks, remember, were signs of personal political identity during COVID. That was especially true on the left.

This from The Atlantic in May of 2021:

Even as scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased, some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning.

What made that unforgivable was the fact that the severe consequences of social isolation on children and adolescents had been published and peer-reviewed in the scientific community well before COVID, and should have been known at CDC at the time the recommendations were made.

Even NPR, in May of 2022, noted that, two years prior in May of 2020, predictions had been made that had come true:

  • Prediction May 2020: “Student learning will suffer. Vulnerable and marginalized students will be most affected.” A study from November 2021 found these gaps were bigger at schools that had less in-person learning in the 2020-2021 school year. A fall 2021 study from UVa found early reading skills in Virginia schools at a 20-year low.
  • Prediction May 2020: “Children are at risk for toxic stress when schools close.”  In October 2021, teachers told pollsters that children’s mental health was their top concern. 

To confirm what the teachers had predicted 17 months prior, CDC’s own profoundly disturbing Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Data Summary Trends Report: 2011–2021, released Monday, found that girls in particular suffered extraordinary post-COVID distress.

Other highlights:

  • In 2021, more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health.
  • In 2021, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.

CDC blames that on the pandemic.

They fail to mention their own lead role in the social isolation that was a primary cause of the mental health stress and behavioral dysfunctions. From the  YRBS report:

Collected in fall 2021, these data also represent the first YRBS data collected since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic .

Although most schools had returned to in-person instruction by that time, the time spent out of school for many students may have impacted the school-related YRBS variables.

Disruptions in daily life also remained common during the time of collection .

Other research and surveys have described the impact of the pandemic on adolescent health and well-being, which was severe. We continue to document, through the 2021 YRBS, the ongoing challenges young people face.

Read again the disembodied observation that “the time spent out of school for many students may have impacted the school-related YRBS variables.” Strong stuff.

CDC’s own National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) told that story as it unfolded, logging huge increases in mental-health-related emergency department visits every month.

Yet they use the words “may have” when reporting the outcomes.

CDC has never made mention of the fact that a dozen high quality studies between 1990 and 2000 had examined social isolation in children and adolescents and predicted the very results that CDC’s 2021 survey found and CDC’s public policies during COVID had urged.

Or that NPR had published interviews that made the same predictions in May of 2020 as detailed above.

But CDC leadership knows they screwed up.

In April 2022, CDC launched an effort to refine and modernize its structures, systems, and processes around developing and deploying our science and programs.

The goal was to learn how to pivot our long-standing practices and adapt to pandemics and other public health emergencies, then to apply those lessons across the organization.

The effort included a review of key workflows, with a particular focus on ensuring CDC’s science reaches the public in an understandable, accessible, and implementable manner as quickly as possible.


CDC is going to “modernize structures systems and processes around developing and deploying our science.” They are going to “learn how to pivot.” How to “adapt to pandemics.” “Apply lessons.” “Review key workflows.” “Ensure CDC’s science reaches the public better.”

When I referred above to the Director of the CDC as “weakened,” remember when the White House said Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was speaking in her “personal capacity” when she said schools might reopen. Seems she had not checked with the American Federation of Teachers.

The first step to improvement is to admit failure. Not gonna happen. Either at CDC nor among progressives.

So, odds are the bureaucracy at CDC is not going to do any overhaul.

Virginia. Speaking of bad performances by bureaucracies, remember also that the Northam administration, having failed to train for or implement its own pandemic plan, and in an attempted coverup, eliminated all reference to it on its websites.

It was the responsibility of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

I have no information at this point whether the Youngkin administration has revived the excellent but banished HAZARD-SPECIFIC ANNEX #4 PANDEMIC INFLUENZA RESPONSE (Non-Clinical) to the Virginia Emergency Operations Plan.

Or what level of state training and exercises for emergencies of all types have been resumed.

I have made the appropriate FOIA inquiry and written about it.

Bottom line.

The CDC, in direct coordination with the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, in February of 2021 insisted upon strict social restrictions in public schools for far longer than indicated by the science.

“Thank you again for Friday’s rich discussion about forthcoming CDC guidance and for your openness to the suggestions made by our president, Randi Weingarten, and the AFT,” wrote AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner in a Feb 1 email — which described the union as the CDC’s “thought partner.”

In doing so they ignored the fact that many American schools like Catholic schools in Virginia opened successfully in August/September 2020.

They ignored entirely the widely and accurately predicted catastrophic effects on children and adolescents.

Virginia state government and some but not all Virginia school boards took their advice.

The public is doomed to see a repeat of such failures in the future if acknowledgements of failure during COVID are not made by our federal and state governments.

We are waiting.