One of the things about the COVID-19 pandemic that’s really distressed me is just how many of my fellow physicians are willing to spread misinformation and disinformation about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the disease itself. Obviously, antivaccine physicians have always embarrassed the hell out of me, and, indeed, I’ve said on multiple occasions that they should lose their licenses to practice medicine. When it comes to COVID-19, we’ve seen Dr. Mehmet Oz promote misinformation. We’ve seen grifting doctors like Dr. Stephen Smith and Vladimir Zelenko promote an unproven drug like hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure. We’ve seen a French “brave maverick doctor” promote the unproven combination treatment of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a COVID-19 cure and use his fame and prominence to bully those who question him. Now, I’ve learned of another doctor, Dr. Kelly Victory, who’s been promoting misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a video on YouTube that’s since been taken down. Unsurprisingly, her fans view it as having been “censored by leftists”:
Unfortunately, the video is very much available elsewhere. For example, here’s a copy of the 17 minutes of pure disinformation:
And here’s another copy:
YouTube really needs to up its game in fighting COVID-19 misinformation.
Dr. Victory—was she really born with that name?—starts out by touting her credentials as a trauma surgeon and an expert in disaster preparedness and response and the management of mass casualties. She also brags about how she’s spent two decades in public health advising Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, schools, and municipalities to “respond effectively to the worst-ever cases.” She also does what a lot of doctors all too obviously do: She appears wearing a lab coat in order to emphasize her status as a doctor and therefore, presumably, an expert. Of course, as we’ve learned, not all doctors are experts, and, just because Dr. Victory is an ER doc (although she calls herself a “trauma and emergency physician”) does not make her an expert on infectious diseases or pandemics. We’ve seen her ilk before, namely Drs. Dan Erikson and Artin Massihi, two grifting owners of a chain of urgent care centers in Bakersfield who made some rather basic mistakes in epidemiology to sell their belief that COVID-19 is not as deadly as those pointy-headed infectious disease experts were estimating at the time.
I debated about whether to take on this video, given that YouTube has already taken it down, but it’s still available on other YouTube accounts and easily accessible. It’s also being spread around Facebook and other social media. So it’s worth looking at. You can get an idea of where Dr. Victory is going from how she starts out after touting her supposed bona fides to pontificate about the pandemic:
While we clearly mourn the lives of all who became severely ill or died from COVID-19, the vast, vast majority haven’t been victims of the actual virus, but of our response and our reaction to the outbreak. Millions of Americans have lost jobs, delayed necessary medical care, have been isolated from family, missed months of school, and been prohibited from worshiping. Now, we find ourselves months into the event, and communities across the country have suffered needlessly and are struggling to find a way out of this mess.
This is one of those propaganda lines that sound convincing because there’s a grain of truth in it. We are months into the pandemic, and communities across the country are suffering needlessly. However, the reason they’re suffering is not because of the “overblown” response, but rather because our political leadership has been utterly bankrupt at the national level (and in all too many states). There is no national strategy (and hasn’t been). President Trump spent months denying the severity of the pandemic, claiming that the coronavirus would just go away when summer came and the weather got warm, and touting his administration’s risibly incompetent response as the best ever, all as over 130,000 Americans are dead from the disease and there have been over 3 million infected. The number of new cases per day is skyrocketing in several states, and, because deaths lag cases, only now are the number of deaths starting to rise.
Dr. Victory emphasizes that COVID-19 is a “mild disease in the vast majority of people,” claiming that 85% of people who contract the disease have few if any symptoms. Again, that’s a bit deceptive. It is true that probably roughly around one third of cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic ) or so mildly symptomatic that the person with the virus doesn’t think much of it (or maybe as high as 40%). That does not mean that 85% have “few, if any, symptoms.” None of this stops Dr. Victory from playing Pangloss:
But only a very small actually require hospitalization, and, although any deaths are tragic, only a tiny fraction have died of this infection.
As I like to emphasize, the law of large numbers tells us that, even if the disease kills “only” 1%, if it infects millions, that 1% will be a huge number. The same is true if the disease “only” kills 0.1%. As Dr. Victory notes, SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus. That means that there isn’t any immunity to it, and, even several months into the pandemic, we don’t know if infection results in immunity or, if it does, how long that immunity lasts. This is contrary to what Dr. Victory claims, which is that just because COVID-19 is novel doesn’t mean that our bodies don’t know how to respond to it. Dr. Victory claims that, because our immune systems have seen “many viruses like” SARS-CoV-2 before and is “remarkably capable of adapting,” COVID-19 is no big deal for most people (except for those for whom it is a very, very big deal indeed).
Check out her brain-dead analogy:
An analogy I might make is: Although I’ve never met you, if I ran into you on the street I would have a good idea how to interact. I’d know that you’re a person, not a tree, a man or a woman, tall or short, and I would have a good idea of how to begin interacting with you, even though I’d never met you before.
This sort of analogy deserves the Godzilla facepalm:
Seriously, WTF? Viruses are not human beings, and human social interactions are not a analogy for how the immune system deals with new viruses. Dr. Victory’s analogy might sound reasonable to the lay person, but to anyone with any knowledge of how the immune system actually works it is one of the silliest analogies ever.
She then launches into a number of claims that range from unproven to pseudoscientific to having a grain of truth vastly oversold.
For example, Dr. Victory notes that “most mutations” in viruses end up making the virus weaker or less lethal. While this can be true for viruses that are highly lethal, given that killing too many of one’s hosts could interfere with optimal replication and spreading, in the case of COVID-19 it’s hard to see how there is much selective pressure for less lethality. After all, 30-40% of cases are asymptomatic, and the infection fatality rate (IFR) is very likely under 1%. When over one-third of infections are asymptomatic (and asymptomatic infected people can spread the disease) and less than 1% of those infected die, it’s hard to see much evolutionary selection pressure on the virus for less lethality. Indeed, the evidence currently existing is that the lethality of coronavirus has probably not changed significantly since the pandemic began. It might be that doctors are becoming more adept at treating severe COVID-19, but it’s still potentially deadly.
Dr. Victory also claims that the virus can’t survive outside the body for more than a few minutes if the temperature is more than 70° F and “certainly not when the temperatures are in the mid-80s or higher.” Clearly, the unbridled spread of coronavirus in Florida, Texas, and Arizona in—checks calendar—July would beg to differ with this assertion.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Victory next goes on to emphasize that it’s mainly people who are older and have preexisting diseases or other medical conditions who are most at risk for severe disease from the virus. Yes, we know this. Scientists have known this since very early in the course of the pandemic. It’s a frequent trope trotted out by COVID-19 deniers that it’s only old people and those with “preexisting conditions” who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. We get it. You don’t care if old people or “useless eaters” die from the disease. I also note that a fair number of younger adults have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19
In fact, though, Dr. Victory goes beyond this, claiming that very few children suffer severe consequences from COVID-19 or die from it and that “all of them” had severe underlying health issues. This is one of those tropes that is partially true but incomplete. Yes, it is true that children are much less likely to suffer severe health effects from COVID-19:
Researchers analyzed data on 4,226 COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC from Feb. 12 to March 16 by 49 states, three U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. The CDC had complete age data for 2,449 of these patients.
The CDC found 31 percent of all cases involved individuals age 65 or older. This age group also accounted for 45 percent of hospitalizations, 53 percent of intensive care unit admissions and 80 percent of deaths.
However, the report also shows that millennials “are not invincible,” STAT wrote in an article about the CDC analysis. Of the 508 cases known to involve hospitalizations, 20 percent involved patients ages 20 to 44, and of the 705 cases in that age range, between 14.3 percent and 20.8 percent were hospitalized. About 2 percent to 4 percent of patients in this age range required treatment in an ICU.
That’s a lot of Millennials.
Particularly despicable is how Dr. Victory dismisses the virus as primarily a problem in nursing homes. She argues that, outside of New York City, the virus has primarily been a problem of nursing homes. While it is true that nursing homes have been hard hit by the coronavirus, to dimiss it as primarily a problem of nursing homes (at least as far as deaths are concerned) is incredibly irresponsible and not accurate.
Dr. Victory, as many COVID-19 deniers do, portrays the public health response to COVID-19 as overblown. For instance, she claims that “social distancing” is not even “an established health care concept.” This is BS, pure and simple, as a search of PubMed led me quickly to conclude. I easily found references to “social distancing” dating back to 2006 and before in the context of pandemics. Before that, I could find references dating back to the 1990s. To claim that “social distancing” is not an established medical concept is, quite simply, either ignorance or a lie, as is her claim that social distancing was never scientifically based or never tested as a concept for responding to a pandemic. That is nonsense. We know that social distancing of 3-6 feet is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Hilariously, Dr. Victory then goes on to argue that quarantine is the way to go, while simultaneously arguing that keeping “healthy people” separated from each other through social distancing is ineffective. But wait! Wait a minute. Didn’t she just say that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic or only weakly symptomatic? How, then, would you distinguish “healthy people” from those with the virus who are asymptomatic? If asymptomatic people can spread the virus, then simply quarantining people with symptoms would be ineffective. The inconsistency boggles the mind.
Particularly idiotic is Dr. Victory’s claim that the WHO, CDC, and NEJM have “acknowledged” that there is no justification for the wearing of masks and that there is no reason for “normal healthy people” to be wearing masks. While it is true that early on in the pandemic the messaging on masks sucked, increasingly the evidence is trending strongly in the direction of concluding that masks are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. In particular, her claim that mask wearing increases the risk of disease to the wearer. There is no evidence that this is true, nor is there evidence that the mask traps viral particles and that “rebreathing” makes it more likely that a mask wearer will become ill. I’m also totally embarrassed that a physician actually buys into the idea that masks can impair gas exchange or increase carbon dioxide levels. This is a fundamental ignorance of science that is worse than that shown by creationist physicians because we physicians are taught pulmonary physiology in great detail in medical school.
Even more ignorant is Dr. Victory’s claim that masks somehow harm our immunity because they decrease our contact with viruses and bacteria. No, seriously. I’m going to quote her here:
Furthermore, and very importantly, habitual wearing of masks decreases the body’s natural immune response. We’re supposed to come into contact with foreign things—bacteria, viruses, all kinds of things—and that’s what keeps our immune systems on alert at full capacity. If you limit your exposure to everything by constantly wearing masks or the overuse of hand sanitizers and disinfectants, your immune system, in effect, says, “Apparently I’m not needed. I’ll go on vacation, take a nap.” And it won’t be prepped and ready when you need it to mount the appropriate immune response.
The stupid, it burns. I used to joke about wearing a paper bag over my head (or even a Doctor Doom mask) in embarrassment when physicians spout gleefully ignorant pseudoscience. I’m seriously tempted to do that now in response to Dr. Kelly’s proudly ignorant blather. Particularly embarrassing (to me, at least) is her blather about immunity, particularly herd immunity. She claims that herd immunity to COVID-19 is “the best approach.” This leads her to say, :”Let people be exposed to this disease, knowing that they won’t likely become ill.” She goes on to argue that letting children get the virus is one of the best ways to promote herd immunity. No, we don’t know that. Not at all. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Victory is also very much into unproven drugs for treating COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine, even though the evidence is very much trending in the direction of concluding that antimalarial drugs like this do not work against COVID-19.
Dr. Victory concludes with a bit on how we should “trust our immune system.” I laughed out loud at her introduction, given that her “trust your immune system” was a blatant appeal to nature. (Remember, nature is not infrequently trying to kill us.) Yes, adequate sleep and a good diet are good for us. There’s no doubt about it. The problem is that there’s no evidence that, in the short term at least, improving diet, exercising more, and getting more sleep will prevent severe disease due to coronavirus. Basically, Dr. Victory thinks that we should all “get back to our lives.” That would be nice if we could do it, but, unfortunately, the coronavirus doesn’t care what we would like.
What’s more depressing is that Dr. Victory is apparently actually viewed as real expert. San Diego’s KUSI, for instance, takes her seriously and interviews her as an “expert” on COVID-19:
And, so, a crank continues to spread her COVID-19 disinformation.