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Calls for conformity throughout the pandemic have echoed one chorus: “Follow the science!” But science is rarely actually a consensus, and it’s hard to follow “the science” when the Centers for Disease Control are issuing guidelines that can only generously be described as patently absurd.
The agency recently released rules for how summer camps should operate in light of the lingering pandemic. Of course, summer camps are for kids and often run by young staffers— groups at minimal risk of death from COVID-19. And they largely occur outdoors, where transmission of the virus is much less likely to occur. So, one might reasonably expect the government’s guidelines to be more permissive for such a safe form of social activity.
One would be wrong.
“This is among the most restrictive, unrealistic guidance the agency has released during the pandemic,” Reason’s Robby Soave reports. “If followed, summer campers would be miserable, deprived of physical contact, and in considerable danger of overheating. The government has essentially recommended that summer camps treat kids like prisoners.”
Here’s Soave’s helpful summary of the many restrictions the CDC seeks to impose:
- Everyone at the camp—including staff and every kid over the age of two—must wear masks at all times, unless they are eating or swimming. They should wear two layers of masks, especially when social distancing is difficult, regardless of ‘whether activities are indoors or outdoors.’
- Campers should be placed in ‘cohorts,’ and their interaction with people outside the cohort must be limited.
- There should always be at least three feet between campers of the same cohort, and six feet between campers of different cohorts. Staff should keep six feet away from campers at all times, whether inside or outside. Distance should be maintained while eating, napping, or riding the bus: The CDC suggests seating kids in alternating rows.
- The use of physical objects that might be shared among kids—toys, art supplies, electronics—should be limited wherever possible.
- Camps should not permit close-contact sports and indoor sports, and should require masks regardless.
- If anyone is curious there are separate restrictions for outdoor gardening.
If this sounds insane, that’s because it is.
Columbia University Pediatrician Mark Gorelik blasted the CDC guidelines as “frankly, senseless.” He said that “Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”
One infectious disease expert inside the government who spoke with New York Magazine on the condition of anonymity said that “masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling.”
“Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children,” the expert concluded. “Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health.”
Camps and families should spurn the CDC’s idiotic advice. But there’s a bigger insight we can glean here. Government bureaucrats are inherently over-incentivized toward caution because they’re held accountable for mistakes but potential benefits they never allow to materialize often go unseen.
As a result, we should almost always trust our individual cost-benefit analysis over the ones that come from Washington, DC. And that might just mean sending your kids to a summer camp that doesn’t resemble a prison.
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Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a libertarian-conservative journalist and Policy Correspondent at the Foundation for Economic Education.
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