On September 28, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky shared the results of a new study that appeared to confirm the need for mask mandates in schools. The study was conducted in Arizona over the summer, and published by the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: It found that schools in counties without mask mandates had 3.5 times more outbreaks than schools in counties with mask mandates.

The significance of that finding should have raised eyebrows, according to The Atlantic's David Zweig. "A number of the experts interviewed for this article said the size of the effect should have caused everyone involved in preparing, publishing, and publicizing the paper to tap the brakes," he wrote in a new article that explores the study's significant flaws. "Instead, they hit the gas."

His article demonstrates quite convincingly that the study's results are suspect:

But the Arizona study at the center of the CDC's back-to-school blitz turns out to have been profoundly misleading. "You can't learn anything about the effects of school mask mandates from this study," Jonathan Ketcham, a public-health economist at Arizona State University, told me. His view echoed the assessment of eight other experts who reviewed the research, and with whom I spoke for this article. Masks may well help prevent the spread of COVID, some of these experts told me, and there may well be contexts in which they should be required in schools. But the data being touted by the CDC—which showed a dramatic more-than-tripling of risk for unmasked students—ought to be excluded from this debate. The Arizona study's lead authors stand by their work, and so does the CDC. But the critics were forthright in their harsh assessments. Noah Haber, an interdisciplinary scientist and a co-author of a systematic review of COVID-19 mitigation policies, called the research "so unreliable that it probably should not have been entered into the public discourse."

It turns out that there were numerous problems with the study. Many of the schools that comprise its data set weren't even open at the time the study was completed; it counted outbreaks instead of cases; it did not control for vaccination status; it included schools that didn't fit the criteria. For these and other reasons, Zweig argues that the study ought to be ignored entirely: Masking in schools may or may not be a good idea, but this study doesn't help answer the question. Any public official—including and especially Walensky—who purports to follow the science should toss this one in the trash.

In other COVID-19 news, the CDC is now recommending the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson due to the rare blood-clotting issues relating to the later. According to Fox Business:

Regulators eventually decided that the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweighed the risks, but the FDA released new data this week showing that more cases have occurred in the summer and fall.

Women between the ages of 30 and 49 are most affected by the blood clotting issue at a rate of about 1 in 100,000 shots.

Health officials have confirmed 54 cases of the blood clots, nine of which have been fatal, CDC official Dr. Isaac See said Thursday. Two more deaths are suspected to be related to the blood clotting issue.

The J&J shot doesn't seem to provide much protection against the now-surging omicron variant, in any case.

Speaking of omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant is spreading throughout the U.S., and is already causing a wave of shutdowns on some college campuses, including Cornell University, Stanford University, Georgetown University, New York University, and Princeton University. That these campuses all saw cases spike despite 95 percent vaccination rates likely means that the vaccines are not doing nearly enough to slow and stop infection, though they still seem to offer significant protection against severe disease and death.

That will end up being key: In Washington, D.C., for instance, high vaccination rates meant that while the delta wave did cause a spike in cases, the city's death rate did not increase at all.

Hopefully, we see something similar with omicron, though everyone should prepare for Democratic officials to bring back mask mandates (and maybe lockdowns) in response to rising cases. Mayor Muriel Bowser will probably reinstate D.C.'s mask mandate—just as soon as her own holiday parties are over.

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