Medical Community Calls Out Fox News’ Favorite New Contrarian Docs

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April 29, 2020 3:42 p.m.
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Two doctors and urgent care center owners advocating for the end of California’s “shelter-in-place” order have become Fox News’ latest cause célèbre — even though their conclusions have been roundly dismissed by the medical community.

Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, owners of a string of urgent care facilities in Bakersfield and the surrounding area, went viral in recent days after claiming that public health orders to combat the spread of COVID-19 are harmful, and that the disease is much less deadly than public health authorities claim.

Fox News has taken to it like catnip: The pair were interviewed by Laura Ingraham in her prime time slot Monday and featured in Tucker Carlson’s monologues two days in a row. Erickson spoke to Shannon Bream in her 11 p.m. slot Tuesday night, and the doctors’ viral local news briefing — which was taken down by YouTube this week after being promoted by Elon Musk and others — was the focus of a “Fox & Friends” segment Wednesday morning.

And yet, doctors across the country say the pair’s conclusions are just… wrong.

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine on Monday said in a statement that they “emphatically condemn” Erickson and Massihi’s pronouncements, and that the doctors’ “reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical societies and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19.”

“ACEP and AAEM strongly advise against using any statements of Drs. Erickson and Massihi as a basis for policy and decision making,” the groups said.

The video that shot the doctors into the spotlight was formatted as a briefing for local media, centered on the roughly 5,000 COVID-19 tests that Accelerated Urgent Care, Erickson and Massihi’s chain of clinics, has conducted on patients from Kern County and the surrounding area.

Based on the rate of positive tests among their patients — as well as testing numbers in California, New York, and nationwide — the doctors projected that tens of millions more Americans currently have COVID-19 than public health officials have acknowledged. Using the current number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, the pair extrapolated that the mortality rate from the disease was much lower than experts believe, and therefore that it would be safe to ease up on quarantine orders.

But doctors and experts quickly called foul: Many COVID-19 deaths are unrecorded as such, they pointed out, and estimating COVID-19 infection rates based on positive tests at urgent care centers “is a bit like estimating the average height of Americans from the players on an NBA court,” the University of Washington biologist Carl Bergstrom tweeted.

Rob Davidson, an emergency room doctor and executive director of the group Committee to Protect Medicare, said the duo’s math “is full of bad assumptions.”

Erickson and Massihi implied in their presentation that local hospital administrators had pressured doctors to report COVID-19 as patients’ causes of death in order to “make it look a little bit worse than it it.” Pressed on why hospital administrator would do this, Erickson simply said “there is something else going on.”

When public health officials use the word “safe,” he said, “that is about controlling you.”

Between the shaky math and the vague conspiracizing, the pair have been a hit on Fox News. “These are serious people who’ve done this for a living for decades,” Carlson said Monday, after airing a clip from their YouTube press briefing.

Interviewing the doctors later Monday, Ingraham said four people had sent her their videos in the course of an hour. “You struck a nerve,” she said. (A Fox News spokesperson pointed out to TPM that Ingraham brought up Davidson’s criticisms of the pair.)

Erickson and Massihi’s star power only grew after YouTube removed video of their briefing from the YouTube channel of KERO-TV on Monday because it violated YouTube’s rules against content that explicitly disputes the efficacy of local health authorities’ “recommended guidance on social distancing that may lead others to act against that guidance.”

“SILENCED BY BIG TECH” a graphic on Carlson’s next monologue read.

“Looking back when all of this is finally over, and it will be, it’s likely we’ll see this moment — what YouTube just did — as a turning point in the way we live in this country,” Carlson proclaimed, “a sharp break with 250 years of law and custom.”

Later Wednesday, speaking to Fox News’ Shannon Bream, Erickson said, “I would like to educate YouTube about herd immunity.”

The YouTube take down was featured yet again on Wednesday morning, near the top of the 7 o’clock hour on one of the President’s favorite programs, “Fox & Friends.”

“Nonsense word salad,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said of the YouTube statement.

“These are doctors that came up with hard numbers and stats. All they said was ‘argue with my numbers!'” Kilmead exclaimed in response, before playing yet another clip of Dr. Erickson.

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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