Candace Owens, a conservative media commentator, got into some hot water recently by lashing out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Twitter. She said that the agency published a document to discuss putting people in camps to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The tweet from Owens garnered significant attention from the public after she wrote that the CDC’s document focused on putting high-risk people into camps so that low-risk people might be shielded from them. She even wrote that this was not a joke and, then, added that people who were referencing 1930’s Germany had been “vindicated.”
But according to the website Politifact.com, the conservative commentator mischaracterized the purpose and findings of a CDC document. They said that the document simply explored the merits and flaws in one method suggested as a means of stemming COVID-19 transmission in refugee camps and other humanitarian settings. They also indicated that by referencing 1930s Germany, Owens’ tweet gave the impression that the CDC proposed putting people into camps to mitigate the virus. And that did not happen.
A spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control, Kristen Nordlund, clearly explained that there were no camps being put into place to shield high-risk people from low-risk people. At least yet.
The document of focus is titled: “Interim Operational Considerations for Implementing the Shielding Approach to Prevent COVID-19 Infections in Humanitarian Settings.” It was last updated July 26, 2020, just a few months into the pandemic and months before vaccines were available to the public. At that time, the CDC was examining one idea for slowing down COVID-19 transmission in places like refugee camps. It’s truly terrifying when you think about how they even considered such a thing.
In March of 2020, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Health in Humanitarian Crises Centre published another paper on what they described as the “shielding approach.” This was a means of reducing COVID-19 transmission and deaths in “forcibly displaced populations residing in camps or camp-like settings” such as refugee camps. Notice they say “forcibly.”
During the time that these papers were published, the general guidance for reducing transmission within the general population was still a mass stay-at-home policy, as well as social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine.
The papers did indicate that these mass population guidelines could not necessarily be implemented where vulnerable people were being cared for in group settings like refugee camps.
The CDC wrote their own paper trying to interpret and analyze scientific COVID-19 concepts and data, according to Kristen Norlund. The approach suggested in the paper was that high-risk individuals should have minimal contact with other low-risk family members or residents in a home. They could be moved to what was described as “green zones” in a household, a separate room or area. In a neighborhood, that zone might be a designated shelter or a house. And in a camp setting, it could be a group of shelters like schools or community buildings.
The document from the CDC also highlighted a number of potential challenges with the approach. It could lead to stigmatization, isolation, and separation from family members.
The paper maintained that public health was not the only focus in their attempt to eradicate the disease, but they also were concerned with the entire spectrum of health and wellbeing. They conceded that the shielding approach was not meant to be coercive, but could appear forced or be misunderstood, especially in vulnerable, humanitarian settings.
Politifact.com ruled in their article that the tweet from Candace Owens was, at its core, false. The CDC did not recommend putting people who are at high risk for COVID-19 into “camps.” They published a paper that explored a previously explored concept called “shielding,” as a possibility for curbing the spread of COVID-19 among people who already live in settings such as refugee camps.
In their research and analysis, the CDC noted that there was “no empirical evidence” regarding whether it would even be effective at slowing down COVID-19 deaths.
Yet, it was considered. It was talked about. While Owens may have jumped the gun a bit, she most certainly showed a discussion that had been previously shielded from the general public. Now, let’s hope Biden doesn’t get his hands on this paper or we’ll be seeing tents pop up everywhere.