In a Monday Op-Ed in The Atlantic, economist and Brown University professor Emily Oster called for “pandemic amnesty” in a plea for forgiveness surrounding COVID-19 related fears and societal tensions.
Oster’s article, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty,” details her experience navigating life through the COVID-19 pandemic. The economist describes following “totally misguided” protocols as “important choices we had to make under conditions of tremendous uncertainty.” Oster concedes a “consensus” of failed COVID-19-related policies including school closures and early vaccine information.
“When the vaccines came out, we lacked definitive data on the relative efficacies of the Johnson & Johnson shot versus the mRNA options from Pfizer and Moderna,” said Oster. “This misstep wasn’t nefarious. It was the result of uncertainty.”
“Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem,” said Oster, referring to controversy surrounding former President Trump’s musing over whether a “disinfectant” could be employed to combat COVID-19 in an infected person. Critics of the former President’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic claimed Trump’s comments suggested consuming bleach.
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute,” said Trump after proposing the employment of ultraviolet light to kill the virus in an April 2020 press conference. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.”
“The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts,” said Oster, noting the contrast between pandemic-related lockdown critics, who warned of unintended consequences of school closures and other measures, compared to others who expressed steadfast support of aforementioned COVID-19 policies.
All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.
She added: “We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty.”
— ProfEmilyOster (@ProfEmilyOster) October 31, 2022
“We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge,” Oster continued. “But we need to learn from our mistakes and then let them go.”
Oster further references previous school closure guidance, citing a “historic” decline in test scores proposing the need to collect relevant data and study the effects of COVID-19 lockdown policies on children. The Brown professor further notes people neglecting healthcare because of COVID-19 related “safety” measures along with newfound fears surrounding vaccination for COVID-19 and other viruses including measles and pertussis.
“The standard saying is that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But dwelling on the mistakes of history can lead to a repetitive doom loop as well,” Oster concluded. “Let’s acknowledge that we made complicated choices in the face of deep uncertainty, and then try to work together to build back and move forward.”