Canadian policymakers should learn from Fauci’s confessions

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in True North, January 26, 2024
Canadian policymakers should learn from Fauci’s confessions

Canadians interested in interrogating the government response to COVID-19 recently heard an interesting admission during a recent congressional hearing in Washington when Anthony Fauci, architect of U.S. COVID policy, admitted that social distancing mandates of “six feet apart” were “likely not based on scientific data” and “sort of just appeared.”

Of course, the same is true for most of other non-pharmaceutical COVID interventions, where there was very little unambiguous science to be followed and policies were essentially pulled out of the air, wrapped in a lab coat and presented as “the science” with a heavy dose of “if you argue, you’re a denier.” These policies included compulsive handwashing, voluntary quarantines, mandatory business closures, mask wearing and school closures.

The inability of schools to manage social distancing was part of the rationale for school closures, as students and teachers could not remain “safely” six feet apart. But Fauci won’t accept any responsibility for the closures or harms to students because of them. In his testimony, he dumped the blame on school districts, rather than public health authorities. According to one House member on the panel, Fauci is still not convinced there was learning loss.

But there was.

According to research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the federal education department (the same government for which Fauci worked), school closures set children back. The Nation’s Report Card, which measures student achievement in the U.S., found in 2022 that students in grades four and eight fell significantly behind in reading and further behind than ever in math.

Here in Canada, student achievement has tumbled following COVID government school closures. In Ontario, where the largest share of Canadian students live, schools were closed provincewide for 27 weeks.

But the consequences of school closures were clear before 2020. Governments should have known better. Someone as well-resourced as Fauci would clearly have had access to the evidence that lost classroom time hurts student achievement, contributes to longer-term student absenteeism, and negatively impacts the social progress of children. Yet like policymakers here in Canada, he advocated schools be closed anyway.

Now, once again the facts are being ignored or denied. As the adults in the room, we must be the stewards of good policy for children. Even if well-intended, the harms of school closures by government diktat must be acknowledged, lest we repeat these mistakes.

In a study we coauthored in 2022, we observed that losses in student performance across provinces reflected significant damage to children’s future prospects. In one example, according to the Calgary Board of Education “number of students who passed the grade 12 diploma exam in Math 30-1 declined by 18 per cent from 77.8 per cent of students in 2018-19, to 63.6 per cent of students in 2021-22. The number of grade 12 students who passed the English 30-1 exam declined by 9 per cent, from 86.8 per cent in 2018-19 to 78.8 per cent in 2021-22. This is significant given the importance of the diploma exams.”

We also observed that school closures led to greater chronic absenteeism, greater educational inequality, and a rise in anxiety, depression and suicide among young people. Research shows that school closures likely reduced the lifetime earnings of students, which also hurts the economy over the long term.

In light of Fauci’s admission that there was little sound science to justify “social distancing” and its trickle-down impacts on society—in other words, that we witnessed a historically unprecedented façade of faux-science at the time of society’s greatest need—Americans and Canadians would surely welcome more admissions about other “follow the science” policies.

But more welcome yet would be for our public health leaders to step up and stop pretending they were blameless. Without this, public trust in public health can only continue to decline. Rather than pointing fingers at others, the COVID-19 public health cadre should make way for new public health professionals who might start out with a greater sense of responsibility, having seen their predecessors booted into obscurity.