2,400 Deaths? 60,000? Fox News’ TV Doctor Guests Muse On Cost Of Ending COVID Orders

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April 17, 2020 3:12 p.m.
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Fox News’ TV doctors have something to say: Come on, what’s the worst that could happen!

That was the word this week from high-profile guests on the network who just happen to be trusted sources of mental and physical health advice for millions of people.

“Dr. Phil,” or Phil McGraw, hasn’t been a licensed psychologist for years, but that didn’t stop him from wondering aloud about the medical implications of COVID-19 isolation measures on Thursday.

“There’s a point at which people start having enough problems in lock down that it will actually create more destruction and, actually, more death, across time, than the actual virus will itself,” he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham Thursday.

“45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents,” McGraw said. “480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the county down from that!”

“Yet we’re doing it for this?” he wondered. “And the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed!”

As The Washington Post noted, McGraw’s numbers were off. Around 4,000 people have died of drowning annually in the United States, so it’s not clear what he meant by 360,000 “swimming pool” deaths. He also overstated the automobile fatalities.

McGraw bills his opinions as coming from a PhD in clinical psychology — he relinquished his license to practice in 2006 — but he went well beyond that on Thursday.

“We think we’re protecting peoples’ lives by keeping them locked up. You keep them locked up long enough, there’s a paradoxical effect,” he said, noting the physical effects of isolation. “You actually destroy more lives than you do by letting them go out and protect themselves and opt in to their lives to fight for what they believe in.”

“Dr. Phil, I could not agree more,” Ingraham replied.

Phil wasn’t alone in calculating just how many COVID-19 deaths “reopening” society was worth. Two nights earlier, the surgeon and TV personality Mehmet Oz was a guest on Sean Hannity’s show, where he estimated that the country needed “our mojo back.”

“Let’s start with things that are really critical to the nation where we think we might be able to open without getting into a lot of trouble,” Oz said. “I tell you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity.”

He cited an article in The Lancet, a prominent medical journal, that Oz said found that “the opening of schools may only cost us 2–3% in terms of total mortality.”

The article found that “Recent modelling studies of COVID-19 predict that school closures alone would prevent only 2–4% of deaths, much less than other social distancing interventions.”

If around 60,000 Americans ultimately die of COVID-19, as the government’s infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci estimated last week, that would mean an additional 1,200–2,400 people dying as a result of the disease.

Calling that trade-off “a theoretical risk on the back side,” Oz said “it might be a trade-off some folks would consider.”

Neither guest is a paid contributor on Fox News, and a Fox News spokesperson pointed to several other doctors that are paid contributors on the network — including Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, the medical director of CityMD, Dr. Martin Makary, of Johns Hopkins.

But McGraw and Oz joined the swelling ranks of pundits, many on Fox News’ airwaves, laying out the cold calculation in lives that it would take to “reopen” the country.

Oz, slammed for his comments Tuesday night, apologized on Thursday.

“I’ve realized my comments on risks around opening schools have confused and upset people, which was never my intention,” he said. “I misspoke.”

McGraw also addressed the uproar.

“Last night, I said we as a society have chosen to live with certain controllable deadly risks every day: smoking, auto crashes, swimming,” he said Friday.

“And yes, I know that those are not contagious, so probably bad examples.”

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

TPM’s COVID-19 hub.
Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.
COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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