Using the viral hashtag “MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy,” disability rights activists and those with disabilities explained in great detail on social media why Walensky shouldn’t be encouraged. Disability rights and inclusion activist Imani Barbarin tweeted that about 840,000 people have died in the pandemic “and much of them Black, indigenous and people of color with disabilities.”
“When we only value those capable of work you put everyone at risk. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy” Barbarin tweeted.
The activist has been tirelessly advocating for people with disabilities who were abandoned and overlooked during the pandemic. She did so recently in a panel on ableism hosted virtually for Daily Kos staff members. Barbarin said on the panel that we saw a disregarding of people with disabilities early in the pandemic. “People heard that only disabled and elderly people would die, and they said, ‘Oh, psst, well we’ll be fine then, right? We’ll be okay,’” Barbarin said. “But when you think about the fact that Indigenous and Black people have the highest rates of disability, it shifts the entire picture behind that instinct, and so being careful to ask yourself why you’re trying to tie something to disability is really where I want people to start questioning themselves.”
Matthew Cortland, a disability advocate, lawyer, and another former panelist on a Daily Kos microaggressions panel, tweeted: “This is eugenicist.” His words were retweeted repeatedly along with footage of Walensky’s interview. One Twitter user with the profile @gremblydraws tweeted: “I have a birth defect that caused me to not develop part of my cervical and lumbar spinal column. Nothing about this means I’m unworthy of living or being part of society. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy”
Twitter user Sharyn Blum tweeted: “I refuse to justify my value as a human being or prove my sincere desire to continue existing. I should not have to that. No one should ever have to do that. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy”
A Twitter user who goes by Orion tweeted: “I have two young children who depend on me as their main caretaker. I’m a human being who loves and deserves to be loved, no matter the state of my physical body. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy and I’m so tired of people acting like it isn’t. We deserve better.”
In some ways, Walensky has already admitted that her communication needs work. “We’re in an unprecedented time with the speed of Omicron cases rising, and we are working really hard to get information to the American public, and balancing that with the reality that we’re all living with,” she told CNN. “This is hard, and I am committed to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communicate that with all of you.”
I believe Walensky. I trust her experience, and after watching her interview, I believe she was trying to convey that she was encouraged by the effectiveness of the vaccines. That said, she failed and in the process hurt a lot of people. For that, she owes the public an apology.
It’s ironic that her misstep came amid an interview intended to clarify what many consider another misstep in the recent CDC guidance. The agency wrote on its website on December 27: “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.”
In the days after the announcement, the CDC received pushback from several different agencies and advocates, including the American Medical Association.
Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the association, wrote in a statement on Wednesday:
Nearly two years into this pandemic, with Omicron cases surging across the country, the American people should be able to count on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for timely, accurate, clear guidance to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Instead, the new recommendations on quarantine and isolation are not only confusing, but are risking further spread of the virus.
“Living during a pandemic is challenging, and what we learn along the way—and data we collect—will necessarily change our course of action at times. According to the CDC’s own rationale for shortened isolation periods for the general public, an estimated 31 percent of people remain infectious 5 days after a positive COVID-19 test. With hundreds of thousands of new cases daily and more than a million positive reported cases on January 3, tens of thousands—potentially hundreds of thousands of people—could return to work and school infectious if they follow the CDC’s new guidance on ending isolation after five days without a negative test. Physicians are concerned that these recommendations put our patients at risk and could further overwhelm our health care system.
“A negative test should be required for ending isolation after one tests positive for COVID-19. Reemerging without knowing one’s status unnecessarily risks further transmission of the virus.
“Test availability remains a challenge in many parts of the country, including in hospitals, and we urge the administration to pull all available levers to ramp up production and distribution of tests. But a dearth of tests at the moment does not justify omitting a testing requirement to exit a now shortened isolation.”
Walensky responded to the criticism citing “dozens of studies” that demonstrate those who tested positive for COVID-19 were most infectious in the one to two days before they developed symptoms and the two to three days after symptoms present. “So by five days after your symptoms, the vast majority of your contagiousness is really behind you,” she said. “And what we say at day five then is: ‘Are your symptoms gone? Are you feeling better? Is your cough gone? Sore throat gone? And if so, then it is safe to go out if you are wearing a mask all the time, and that means not going out to restaurants, no going out to gyms, not going in visiting grandma but really conscientiously wearing your mask for those last five days.”
That didn’t clarify much at all for me. And in this time when researchers are consistently discovering new strains of the virus—the latest a combination of Omicron and Delta variants dubbed “Deltacron”—I like my public health directives simple and to the point.
What would have been so problematic about only recommending a five-day isolation period for those who test negative for the virus using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test?