Story at a glance

  • Dr. Oz appeared on Fox to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and spoke about the tradeoffs involved in public health decisions.
  • The quote went viral as some people were concerned that Dr. Oz was endorsing an argument to allow the deaths of many.
  • The controversy raised attention to the current national debate around reopening schools and offices that are now closed to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Mehmet Oz found himself at the center of a fierce national debate about reopening the nation this morning, learning quickly how misunderstandings can go viral. 


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“First, we need our mojo back,” Oz told Sean Hannity on the Fox News channel. “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. Schools are a very appetizing opportunity.”

In his full response, Oz said “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 to the backside might be a tradeoff some folks would consider.”

But the shortened version of the quote went viral, with #DrOz trending nationwide along with #FireDrOz by 5 p.m. that day. Some people were concerned that the heart surgeon who rose to fame on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was endorsing an argument to allow the deaths of students. 

But the 2 to 3 percent “total mortality” refers to the general population, not just the student population, of the United Kingdom. The "nice piece" got the number from a study by U.K. scientists who concluded that school closures alone would reduce the total number of COVID-19 deaths by 2 to 4 percent. The study was published online by the Imperial College of London on March 16, two days before the United Kingdom closed its schools. There is no evidence to show whether the reverse, that reopening schools would lead to a 2 to 4 percent mortality rate, is accurate.


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Oz issued an apology later that day, saying that he misspoke.  

The controversy raised attention to the current national debate around reopening schools and offices that are now closed to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.  

"Every life is a life and what is the tradeoff in terms of starting to reopen things, that's a big one," Sanjay Gupta told CNN, responding to Oz's comments. “But these are the questions that are going to have to be discussed.”


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Published on Apr 16, 2020