A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
But words matter as much as ever in this time of a deadly pandemic and alternative facts.
Things that are just plain wrong take on lives of their own. A twice-edited video of a government official created a falsehood.
CNN’s Daniel Dale has the full fact check, but the story is that millions of people on Twitter saw an 11-second video of Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying these words:
“The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these were people who were unwell to begin with.”
That’s not the whole story. Walensky did say those words. But she was talking about a very specific set of Covid-19 deaths, among vaccinated people tracked in a study.
Walensky was talking about how it was encouraging that the vast majority of vaccinated people were safe from death by Covid-19.
As shared on Twitter by the conservative radio and TV host Clay Travis, the video gave a very different, and wrong, impression.
Travis added his own false context: “The CDC director just said over 75% of ‘Covid deaths’ occurred in people with at least four comorbidities. Since Biden can’t shut down Covid, suddenly all this data is getting shared publicly.”
Still there. The tweet is still online, by the way, although it includes a label by Twitter that says, “This media is presented out of context.” The video clip has more than 4 million views.
Dale, along with other fact checkers, tracked the video back to “Good Morning America,” which had posted a longer but still edited clip. News programs often trim interviews for time, but in this case “GMA” trimmed its own important context.
New direction. The editing of Walensky wasn’t the only example of a context-free headline in recent days.
“Most people are going to get Covid,” were the words uttered by US Food and Drug Administration acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock during an appearance before lawmakers Tuesday.
They seemed, out of context, to be a sharp departure from the “stop the spread” mantra Americans have been asked to practice for the past two years.
Still need to take precautions. As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus tears through the country, Woodcock’s admission before lawmakers caused some whiplash — even if anyone who has been paying close attention has understood that Covid-19 measures are meant to slow the virus rather than eradicate it.
That important context was in the next words out of Woodcock’s mouth: “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function.”
That means Americans still need to wear their masks and get their vaccines and boosters. And they probably need to upgrade their masks.
Confused. CNN contributor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed was confused by Woodcock’s testimony. First, he argued to CNN’s John Berman and Kaitlan Collins on “New Day” that there’s no empirical evidence to suggest what Woodcock said was true, even if it seems evident from the way the Omicron variant has surged.
More important, he said it can create a national sense of c’est la vie when focus is what’s needed.
“If (Americans) think that it’s an inevitability, that most people are going to get it, then in some respects it sort of destroys the incentive to do what you can to protect yourself,” El-Sayed said. “It was stunning and also somewhat perplexing as a means of science communication.”
Confusion about when to change tactics as the virus changes has been a main storyline of Covid-19. The government has often seemed slow to move.
Finding vs. getting Covid-19. El-Sayed was more approving of the words used by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also appeared on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody,” said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser.
Fauci added some more context for Woodcock when he appeared at a White House briefing Wednesday.
“What Dr. Woodcock was referring to when she said most of us will ultimately get Omicron is not that most of us were ultimately going to get sick with Omicron,” Fauci said.
Aside: Fauci is getting more pointed in hitting back at Republicans who criticize him during congressional testimony. CNN’s Paul LeBlanc wrote about Fauci’s barbs with Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Roger Marshall of Kansas, whom Fauci was heard calling a “moron” under his breath.
The bottom line from all the government officials is that people should get vaccinated and boosted.
There’s a “dichotomy between people who get Omicron who get vaccinated and boosted (and) how well they are protected against hospitalization and death,” Fauci said.
The dichotomy is indisputable. Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of Harris Health System in Houston, laid out the data from his hospital system Tuesday on CNN.
Since January 2021:
- 282 people had died of Covid-19 at Harris Health System as of January 5, 2022.
- Of those numbers, only nine had been vaccinated.
- Zero had been vaccinated and boosted.
Other headlines. Here are some more Covid-19 developments worth reading.
US death rate: The CDC predicts more than 62,000 Covid-19 deaths in the next four weeks, which would bump the US to well more than 900,000 Covid-19 deaths total. The average daily deaths would jump by nearly 1,000.
Around the world: Omicron has reached nearly every country on Earth, according to one assessment.
Omicron economy: Seats are unfilled and ticket sales are down on Broadway as mask and vaccine requirements were extended through April. Restaurants are getting hit hard — again. CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich talked to restaurant owners who are losing money and looked at calls for new funding to bail out the industry.
Lasting effects: The individual effects of even mild Covid-19 may last for a while. A Canadian study published Wednesday involving middle-aged and older adults suggested that people who had relatively mild cases of the coronavirus had lingering mobility issues.
Booster transparency: Former President Donald Trump, who did not immediately share his vaccination status as President, and who was booed by some Republicans after saying that he had received a booster, wants others in his party to be more open about their status.
“I watched a couple politicians be interviewed, and one of the questions was, ‘Did you get a booster?’ Because they had the vaccine and they’re answering like — in other words, the answer is ‘yes’ but they don’t want to say it, because they’re gutless,” Trump told the far-right channel One America News. He may have been talking specifically about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential primary rival, who recently sidestepped a question about whether he had gotten the booster.
Extremely unwell: The Republican governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, said he had been vaccinated and boosted and has Covid-19. He was forced to postpone a State of the State address.
“While I was surprised that my test results came back positive, I’m thankful to the Lord above that I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been boosted, and that I have an incredible support system, especially my loving family,” Justice said in a statement.
“That being said, I feel extremely unwell at this point.”