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Amateur Hour: Another Day, Another CDC COVID Reversal

Over the holidays, the CDC informed Americans that Omicron had become the dominant COVID variant in the United States. A week before Christmas, headlines blared that Omicron had come to represent nearly three-quarters of new cases in the country. A week-and-a-half later the same experts announced a revision. A huge revision. Did we say 73 percent? We meant, um, 23 percent:

The CDC had previously reported that as of Dec. 18, 73% of new cases were linked to omicron. But on Tuesday, the agency revised those figures, slashing that estimate to 23% — a 50-point drop, suggesting that while the new variant was on the rise, it was not infecting people at the rate the CDC had projected...The most recent report shows that as of Dec. 25, 59% of all U.S. infections were caused by omicron. Meanwhile, delta accounted for 41% of cases during the same period.

So they said three-in-four COVID infections were Omicron in mid-December, then changed that number to one-in-four, then said that the real stat at Christmas was nearly 60 percent. Data guru Nate Silver reacted in a stunned tweet that read, in part: "Seriously WTF?!?!? I think we have to assume the CDC's method is crap and should be ignored going forward." This misfire was not merely confusing; it was actually harmful:

The U.S. government says it has halted distribution of two of the three available COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatments because they are not sufficiently effective against the omicron variant. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or ASPR, announced the pause in a statement Wednesday. The Food and Drug Administration released data showing that it is unlikely the therapeutics from Regeneron and Eli Lilly retain activity against omicron. However, a similar treatment developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, called sotrovimab, does appear to retain activity against the variant, the FDA said. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omicron accounts for 73% of new cases in the U.S.

That last sentence was accurate at the time, but the CDC's data was not. They halted distribution of highly successful COVID treatments because those treatments have been deemed ineffective against a variant whose prevalence they'd wildly overestimated. How many people stricken with Delta (over a certain stretch of time) were unable to receive monoclonal antibodies because CDC got their numbers wrong? CDC officials also made a major change on isolation guidance -- shifting the time frame from ten days to five.

For the remainder of the story and associated tweets, see

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