Apr 17, 2020 - Health

Celebrity doctors and medical experts clash over coronavirus response

Doctors Mehmet Oz, Anthony Fauci and Phil McGraw

Mehmet Oz (L), Anthony Fauci (C) and Phil McGraw (R). Photo: Roy Rochlin/Chip Somodevilla/Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Celebrities, like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, have endorsed plans for states to slowly reopen their economies, while the country's lead immunology expert, Anthony Fauci, has offered words of caution.

The big picture: As several famous doctors have gone on-air with major news networks, including Fox News, "[t]he conflicting views ... highlight how expert advice on the coronavirus has been undermined by celebrity doctors with little to no infectious disease experience," the Washington Post writes.

Why it matters: Some of the guidance from celebrity doctors comes at a time when people across the U.S. are protesting shelter-at-home orders and mandates to close non-essential business, claiming those directives infringe on their freedoms.

  • President Trump released new federal guidelines Thursday, outlining a three-phase approach to reopen the country in communities with mild cases of COVID-19. The recommendations put the responsibility on state and local leaders to determine how and when to return to normalcy.

What they're saying:

Both Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, joined Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday.

  • Fauci told Ingraham: “...I have to tell you, the degree of efficiency of transmissibility of this is really unprecedented in anything that I’ve seen. It’s an extraordinarily efficient virus in transmitting from one person to another. Those kind of viruses don’t just disappear.”
  • McGraw, who has a PhD in clinical psychology but is not licensed to practice medicine, followed Fauci's interview, saying, “We have people dying, 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the country down for that." He added that if people don't return to work and school, they may face anxiety, depression and other challenges.
  • Reality check per Axios Caitlin Owens: Leading coronavirus modeling has recently lowered its projection for the number of American deaths, a sign that social distancing is working.

Mehmet Oz, a surgeon called "Dr. Oz," on TV, spoke with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday.

  • Oz said schools "are a very appetizing opportunity," and should consider reopening soon. He also noted that resuming schools "may only cost us 2 to 3% in terms of mortality."
  • Reality check: Oz's statements went viral, and he quickly clarified that he "misspoke." He said his goal was to ask "how do we get our children safely back to school."
  • Yes, but: Oz has advocated for uniform testing, while he also "hyped the potential of hydroxychloroquine" as a treatment which is still not proven effective, The Washington Post notes.

Drew Pinsky, known as "Dr. Drew," has claimed the coronavirus is "way less serious than influenza" as the pandemic emerged, and claimed it was a "press-induced pandemic."

  • Reality check: Pinsky has since apologized and said: "My early comments about equating coronavirus with influenza were wrong. They were incorrect. It was part of a chorus that was saying that and we were wrong. And I want to apologize for that. I wish I got it right, but I got it wrong."

Go deeper: Leading coronavirus modeling shows that social distancing is working

Go deeper