By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – One viral tweet from a local academic said it all about the well-meaning but utterly frustrating pandemic guidance coming from our government these days.

“Stay indoors. But also return in person. Wear a mask. Not that one. The expensive one, that you can’t find. Take rapid tests. But if you find them, don’t buy them. Rapid tests don’t work. You need PCR. There are zero appointments in your area,” tweeted University of New Hampshire Law School Prof. Tiffany Li.

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More than 50,000 retweets and 250,000 likes (and counting) attest to the nerve Li hit. “Clearly, many people are on the same page,” she tells WBZ News.

No wonder, with guidance like this coming from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky the other day: “After 5 days, if asymptomatic or symptoms are largely resolved, you may leave isolation as long as you continue to wear mask around others, even in the home, for an additional five days.”

Huh?

“We all say well, what are we doing here? You told me we didn’t have to wear a mask, but we have to wear a mask? How can you say now that if we test, wear a mask, but if not, you’re still safe. Why am I wearing a mask?” asks crisis management expert Dan Cence of the Boston firm Solomon/McCown/Cence.

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Cence notes government experts are caught in a no-win situation, their credibility with an advice-weary public damaged by the evolving nature of their knowledge and the politicization of pandemic policy.

“I don’t know that they’re always getting it out on their terms,” he says. “At times they are reactionary in where they go. They deliver what they believe to be the best advice they possibly can and then the airline industry tells them that’s no good, so they go back and modify it.”

The administration knows they have a problem. “They’re actually working right now on issuing a clarification,” says US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

With the research on COVID-19 and the resulting judgments of the public health professionals in near-constant flux, perhaps the best advice – for them and us – comes from that understandably befuddled tweeter.

“Their role isn’t to tell us exactly what to do permanently, forever, but to keep us updated on changing guidance,” says Prof. Li. “So maybe we all just have to be a little more comfortable with the ambiguity and live with the changes.”

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Good luck with that.

Jon Keller