In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Dr. Mehmet Oz discussed reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic and said that doing so "may only cost us 2 to 3% in terms of total mortality." The television personality suggested that the potential deaths "might be a tradeoff some folks would consider" and has since come under fire for his comments, with some on social media calling him "heartless."
"We need our mojo back," Oz said in reference to the American economy. "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. I tell ya, schools are a very appetizing opportunity."
Oz, who was appointed as one of President Trump's health advisors in 2018, then went on to reference a study published earlier this month in The Lancet, which said "a modelling study by Ferguson and colleagues concluded that in the U.K., school closures alone will reduce COVID-19 deaths by only 2-4%."
"I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3% in terms of total mortality," Oz told Hannity. "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 a theoretical risk on the backside, that might be a tradeoff some folks would consider."
Across social media, a number of people took offense to Oz's statement. "Please tell me I heard this incorrectly," Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, tweeted. "Did this lunatic @DrOz just say killing 2-3% of all school children was an 'appetizing' possibility? As someone who lost his daughter to gun violence in school, this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard."
"Dr. Oz barbarically argues we should reopen schools [because] it would 'only' kill 2-3% of kids," Qasim Rashid, a Democratic candidate running for Congress in Virginia, tweeted. "America has 57 Million school children. 3% is 1.71 Million kids."
"Who knew Dr Oz is such a heartless person!" one Twitter user said. "Sacrifice children by sending them back to school?? He can sacrifice his grandkids!!" Another said, "What an evil heartless thing to say."
While Romper's request for comment from Oz regarding his comments and the backlash was not immediately returned, he did issue a response on Twitter, saying that he "misspoke."
"I've realized my comments on risks of opening schools have confused and upset people, which was never my intention. I misspoke," he said in a video message. "As a heart surgeon, I spent my career fighting to save lives in the operating room by minimizing risks. At the same time, I'm being asked constantly how we will be able to get people back to their normal lives."
"To do that, one of the important steps will be figuring out how do we get out children safely back to school," he said. "We know, for many kids, school is a place of security, nutrition, and learning that is missing right now. These are issues we are all wrestling with and I'll continue looking for solutions to beat this virus."
Despite public health officials' calls to stay home and practice social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, some people have called for reopening the economy, which would have to include reopening schools to enable parents to return to work, as CNN reported. "[School is] how we take care of [children] in the middle of the day," CNN's Zachary B. Wolf wrote. "Parents can't easily pick up and go back to work if they have no place to put their children. The reality is that nobody — not governors or the White House — can completely reopen the economy if the schools are still shut."
According to Education Week, which has been tracking school closures in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic first began, at least 124,000 public and private schools are now closed, impacting at least 55.1 million students. What's more, at least 25 states and three U.S. territories have rolled out plans to keep their schools closed for the remainder of the 2020 academic years.
While early research has shown that children typically experience mild illness with COVID-19, there have been cases of serious illness and even death. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there had been three coronavirus-related pediatric deaths in the United States. These include a 6 to 7-week-old infant who died in Connecticut and an infant under the age of 1 who died in Illinois in late March.
That being said, children aren't the only ones potentially put at risk if schools were to reopen. Teachers and school staff, as well as their families, could find themselves at an increased risk of exposure or infection if schools were to resume classes on campus.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.