Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity talk show host who has advised President Trump, said Thursday that he “misspoke” in remarks made on Fox News about opening schools despite the risk of losing lives to the pandemic.
“I’ve realized my comments on risks around schools have confused and upset people, which was never my intention,” Dr. Oz said in a video released on Twitter Thursday afternoon. “I misspoke.”
During an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Dr. Oz, a frequent guest on the network, said the idea of reopening schools was “an appetizing opportunity” in light of an article in a medical journal “arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality.”
“We need our mojo back,” he told the Fox News host Sean Hannity. “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 you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity.”
He continued: “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. 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 backside, it might be a trade-off some folks would consider.”
The article he cited appeared to be an April 6 review in The Lancet, a medical journal, that said studies had shown school closures alone would prevent only 2 to 4 percent of deaths from the coronavirus.
The comments provoked a backlash and reignited criticism of Dr. Oz, who has been accused by other doctors of promoting questionable treatments and cures for financial gain.
In 2014, a Senate panel questioned him about his promotion of green coffee bean extract as a weight loss product, and Senator Claire McCaskill said she was concerned that he was “melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.” In December 2014, BMJ, a British medical journal, released a report that said “no evidence could be found” for about a third of the recommendations Dr. Oz had made on his show, “The Dr. Oz Show.”
He has defended himself on his show and on Facebook, writing, “I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn’t sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts.”
Dr. Oz gained prominence as an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon in the 1990s, and rose to television fame with regular appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in the 2000s. He remained a regular guest on her show until 2009, when he started his own show, and was also featured in her magazine O, in articles that promoted strategies for living longer or losing weight.
In 2018, Mr. Trump appointed Dr. Oz to a council on sports, fitness and nutrition as part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Oz has appeared frequently on Fox News to discuss the pandemic. Last month, he touted the use of hydroxychloroquine even though other researchers have warned that the drug remains unproven in treating the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, has said findings that the drug helped patients with the virus were still “anecdotal.”
On Thursday afternoon, after his most recent comments had been widely shared on social media, Dr. Oz said in the video that as a heart surgeon, his primary job was to save lives by minimizing risk.
“At the same time, I’m being asked constantly how will we be able to get people back to their normal lives,” he said. “To do that, one of the important steps will be figuring out how do we get our children back to school.”
Dr. Oz added, “We know that for many kids school is a place of security, nutrition and learning that is missing right now.” He said he would continue looking for solutions to “beat this virus.”
Phillip C. McGraw, the psychologist known as Dr. Phil, similarly gained celebrity on Ms. Winfrey’s show, and went on to launch his own program and to court controversy.
Dr. McGraw, who is also a regular guest on Fox News, appeared on the show “The Ingraham Angle” on Thursday and questioned whether social distancing measures were worth sustaining amid a worldwide economic crisis. He compared the death toll of the coronavirus to deaths that are not caused by contagious illness, such as automobile accidents, cigarettes and drownings. He said that those causes, collectively, killed hundreds of thousands of people a year.
“We don’t shut the country down for that but yet we’re doing it for this?” he said. “The fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”
Dr. Fauci and public health officials from the Centers for Disease have urged caution with easing social distancing, which they call one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of the virus. They warn that, if the measures are relaxed too soon, it could risk another wave of illness and death.