McGraw, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is not a medical doctor, has not studied infectious disease and does not have any specific expertise associated with epidemiology. (McGraw had a vertical on HuffPost for a period of time. His contract with the site ended in 2016.)
Dr. Christopher Gill, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of global health at Boston University, called McGraw’s argument both “silly” and “shortsighted and unhelpful.”
“In the US, [COVID-19] case numbers are doubling every week or so — in some parts of the country, they are doubling every few days,” he told HuffPost via email. “Dr. Phil seems to be arguing that we should do nothing until things get so catastrophic that there are more [COVID-19] deaths than smoking deaths.”
“This argument makes no sense to me,” Gill continued. “The number of smoking deaths (or swimming pool deaths) is slowly falling in the U.S. due to aggressive public health campaigns around smoking cessation and swimming safety. By contrast, the [COVID-19] numbers are rising every week.”
“If we were to take Dr. Phil’s advice and do nothing because the [COVID-19] deaths SO FAR are much smaller than the smoking deaths, then the math is pretty clear that before too long the [COVID-19] deaths could actually be much higher than smoking deaths, which would be catastrophic,” Gill said.
Dr. Arnold Monto, an epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan, also disagreed with McGraw’s “analysis” of the current situation.
“This is an infectious disease and when it occurs, there are multiple cases in a limited geographic area. Handling them stretches the system,” Monto explained in an email to HuffPost. “If this were like a local disaster, such as a major explosion, it would be limited to a single place. Here, this is occurring widely and draining resources. What is worse is that cases stay in the hospital for long periods, further impacting the system. This does not happen in swimming deaths and his other illustrations.”
Monto went on to say that, while social distancing is “a blunt instrument,” it’s crucial “to flatten the demand for medical management” and “it is all we have.”
It should also be noted that the statistics Dr. Phil mentioned on Fox News Thursday night were wrong. Outside of his quote for the cigarette-related deaths, none of those figures are accurate. Additionally, unlike the coronavirus, swimming deaths and traffic fatalities aren’t contagious.
He later addressed this issue during a Facebook Live stream on Friday, telling viewers that those were “probably bad examples.”
“Now, last night, I said we as a society have chosen to live with certain controllable deadly risks every day. Smoking, auto crashes, swimming. And yes, I know that those are not contagious. So, probably bad examples,” he said. “And I refer to them as numbers of deaths that we apparently find acceptable because we do little or nothing about them. I get that they are not contagious, so they are probably not good examples. I probably could have used better examples.”
Dr. Phil, who also talked about the psychological toll of coronavirus on people in lockdown while on Ingraham’s show, went on to stress the importance of helping people deal with depression right now. He also emphasized: “I am not an infectious disease doctor. I am not a molecular microbiologist. I look at this from a human behavior psychological standpoint.”