The former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, admitted the six-foot social distancing rule that public health officials recommended was actually “arbitrary in and of itself,” and he noted that “nobody knows where it came from.”
Gottlieb discussed the rules and risks early in the pandemic while speaking with Face the Nation; he explained the Trump administration shifted focus to the impact lockdowns and regulations would have on the children and economy.
“My view is that they were sold on the idea that you weren’t going to be able to really affect the spread and that anything you did was just going to have so many repercussions in terms of impact on children who might not be in school. Impact on the economy, that the costs were worse than the disease,” he said, explaining that schools were a “perfect example of the lack of effective policymaking.”
“So the single reason why most schools remained shut was because the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was telling them they had to keep kids six feet apart,” he said. “If- if CDC has said you can only- you have to keep kids three feet apart, then a lot of schools would have been able open.”
“And in fact, when the Biden administration wanted to open schools in the spring, this past spring, they got the CDC to change that guidance from six feet to three feet,” Gottlieb continued, admitting the original guidance was “arbitrary” and had unknown origins.
“The six feet was arbitrary in and of itself; nobody knows where it came from,” he said. “The initial recommendation that the CDC brought to the White House and I talk about this was 10 feet, and a political appointee in the White House said we can’t recommend 10 feet.”
“Nobody can measure 10 feet. It’s inoperable. Society will shut down. So the compromise was around six feet. Now imagine if that detail had leaked out. Everyone would have said this is the White House politically interfering with the CDC’s judgment,” he continued:
The CDC said 10 feet, it should be 10 feet, but 10 feet was no more right than six feet and ultimately became three feet. But when it became three feet, the basis for the CDC’s decision to ultimately revise it from six to three feet was a study that they had conducted the prior fall. So they changed it in the spring. They had done a study in the fall where they showed that if you have two masked individuals, two people wearing masks, the risk of transmission is reduced 70% with masks if you’re three feet apart. So they said on the basis of that, we can now make a judgment that three feet is an appropriate distance. Which begs the question if they had that study result in the fall? Why didn’t they change the advice in the fall? Why did they wait until the spring?
The decisions quickly undermined American’s confidence in advice from public health officials, he added.
“This is how the whole thing feels arbitrary and not science-based. So we talk about a very careful, science-based process, and these anecdotes get exposed, and that’s where Americans start to lose confidence in how the decisions got made,” he added.
The CDC guide for schools now says schools should “maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk.”