Dr. Phil Faces Backlash for Downplaying Pandemic, Suggesting US Should Reopen

TV Host Dr. Phil McGraw is the subject of controversy after downplaying the coronavirus pandemic in an argument to reopen the economy in the United States. The famous figure, who is not a medical doctor, appeared on Thursday's episode of The Ingraham Angle on Fox News, listing statistics for annual deaths that he says are more deadly than coronavirus.

"250 people a year die from poverty. And the poverty line is getting such that more and more people are going to fall below that because the economy is crashing around us. And there doing that because people are dying from the coronavirus. I get that," McGraw said to Ingraham. "But look, the fact that the matter is we have people dying, 45,000 people die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don't shut the country down for that but yet we're doing this? And the fallout is going to last for years because people's lives are being destroyed."

As the clip gained momentum, McGraw began to trend on Twitter, with critics ripping him for his incorrect statistics. In the U.S., it has been decades since we hit 45,000 car deaths per year, though the yearly total has increased the last few years up to about 40,000, according to the National Safety Council. One of McGraw's figures that was glaringly incorrect was swimming pool deaths. The country averaged 3,536 unintentional drowning deaths each year from 2005 to 2014, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a far cry from McGraw's 360,000 figure.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, explained the White House's new guidelines for states to slowly reopen their economies in a three-phase process. Fauci, director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, urged a cautious approach on Ingraham's show — though his advice was quickly undercut by McGraw in a following segment.

The conversations came after President Donald Trump released new federal guidelines Thursday that lay out a three-phase plan to eventually return to normal in places with minimal cases of coronavirus. The recommendations place the responsibility on governors and mayors to determine when and how to return to normalcy.

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McGraw joins other distancing naysayers, like Dr. Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show fame, who told Fox News' Sean Hannity that an unmitigated coronavirus death toll might be a "trade-off" worth making to reopen schools. He later apologized and walked back his statement. Dr. Drew Pinsky, known for his 30 years as the Loveline radio show host and a reality TV staple, sparked controversy when he compared the coronavirus to the flu. It's important to note that unlike McGraw, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, both Oz and Pinsky are physicians.

At least 33,286 people have died from the coronavirus and more than 671,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Friday morning, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University. Between April 6 and April 12, the virus killed more people in the U.S. than any other cause of death except heart disease.