Medical pundit and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz has gotten himself in another mess after comments he made about re-opening schools amidst the covid-19 pandemic went viral earlier today. In conversation with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Dr. Oz referred to schools as “a very appetizing opportunity” for the United States to get “our mojo back.” Ah yes, nice and creepy.
Dr. Oz continued on to say:
“I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent, in terms of total mortality. And you know, that’s, any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they’re safely being educated, being fed, and making the most out of their lives, with the theoretical risk on the back side might be a trade-off some folks would consider...”
And understandably, everyone lost their shit. A medical professional suggesting that the deaths of thousands of people would be justifiable just to get the economy started again? And couching those comments under some faux concern for children? It doesn’t look good.
And not only was Dr. Oz’s language both inappropriately blasé and alarming, but it was also very unclear. By “total mortality” is he referring to the totality of American school children or the totality of the population of the United States? It turns out, neither.
The paper in question in The Lancet, the medical journal that Dr. Oz referenced during his Fox News segment, actually says:
“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.”
In other words, the 2-4 percent figure that Dr. Oz referenced wasn’t actually referring a certain population of people, but to the percentage of deaths resulting from covid-19 that would be in question if schools across the nation re-opened.
As a recent article from Slate explains the difference in further detail:
“First, it’s clear that the paper is not arguing that closing schools prevents a specific fraction of children from dying but a fraction of overall deaths from the coronavirus... Oz seems to be suggesting school closures in exchange for about 10,000 deaths, nowhere near 1 million, and not of children, who rarely die from the virus but could nonetheless be carriers.”
As the Slate goes on to clarify, another one of the significant issues with Dr. Oz’s comments is that the paper draws on evidence that is pretty weak. None of the included studies are peer-reviewed, and all of the published data it referenced had to do with SARS, not this particular kind of coronavirus. Treating this paper with the same scientific weight as one based on peer-reviewed studies and extensive research is disingenuous, particularly coming from someone who presents themself as a medical professional.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Oz released a statement on Thursday evening, seemingly in an attempt to rectify the situation by addressing how he “misspoke” during the comments he made on Fox News.
I won’t make you all suffer by going through Dr. Oz’s entire response line by line, but I mean I HAVE to touch on a few sentences. After all, it’s literally my job.
“As a heart surgeon, I spent my career fighting to save lives in the operating room by minimizing risks.”
(We get it, you’re a doctor.)
“At the same time, I’m being asked constantly: how will we be able to get people back to their normal lives?”
Who is asking Dr. Oz this? No actually, who besides Fox News is asking Dr. Oz how to slow the pandemic that has rapidly swept across the globe? No journalist I know would reach out to a heart surgeon to talk about the covid-19 pandemic, a situation that very clearly does not fall within the scope of whatever Dr. Oz’s expertise may be.
“To do that, one of the important steps will be figuring out how do we get our children safely back to school. We know for many kids, school is a place of security, nutrition, and learning that is missing right now.”
To be fair, this is actually true. It’s been widely discussed how the covid-19 crisis has created circumstances that could put vulnerable children at greater risk of experiencing abuse and neglect. Since the social distancing measures began and businesses and schools began to close, there have been drastic drops in reports of child support in cities and states all across the country—a development that experts worry has resulted from so many children being separated from the teachers and counselors who normally report mistreatment.
Dr. Oz’s initial comments came under fire not just because of his perceived lack of concern with the well being of our nation’s children and educators, but because he suggested that it was worth attempting to re-open parts of the economy and send kids back to school at the expense of thousands of people’s lives. Yet another reminder that to many of the rich, it’s perfectly fine to treat the lives of thousands of marginalized people as collateral damage in their attempt to preserve their own wealth.