Does a video by Dr. Kelly Victory that promises to discuss "COVID facts" deliver all factual claims? No, that's not true: Lead Stories identified at least 10 "facts" that are false, including claims that children are at "virtually no risk" from the novel coronavirus, that social distancing is "not an established public health concept," and that there is "no scientific justification" for wearing face masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19, and that masks are a health risk. Peer-reviewed scientific articles, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and responses from other medical experts dispute Victory's claims.
I'm a trauma and emergency physician with a specialty in disaster preparedness and response and the management of mass casualty. We know that COVID-19 is a mild disease.
This is what the post and video looked like at the time of writing:
To check the claims, Lead Stories found peer-reviewed journal articles and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publications, and also asked infectious disease experts leading Seattle's and Hawaii's COVID-19 response to review the claims.
Dr. Kelly Victory is a Steamboat Springs, Colorado, physician trained in emergency medicine. On LinkedIn, she lists herself working since 2006 as president of Victory Health, a disaster response training, consulting and policy operation. She holds an active license to practice medicine under her legal name of Colleen Victory, Colorado's regulatory agency reports, but she is not listed on the emergency department staff of the hospital in Steamboat Springs, where she lives. Routt County, Colorado, where she is based, has reported less than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of July 10.
The infectious disease and public health experts who contradict her claims and advice are from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and from Seattle (11,000 confirmed cases as of July 10) and Honolulu, 867 cases as of July 10.
"She is spreading dangerous misinformation," Dr. Sean O'Leary wrote in a July 12 email interview with Lead Stories. O'Leary is a coauthor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines for school re-opening during the pandemic. He is a board-certified pediatrician at University of Colorado School of Medicine who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases. He said Victory's claim that it is safe to seek to build "herd immunity" by exposing children to COVID-19 is unrealistic and that until there is a vaccine, that approach could endanger older family members.
The 17-minute, 31-second video describes COVID-19 as a problem for nursing homes, but not for most Americans, a claim infectious disease experts blasted as false.
Chronologically, by the time-counter on the video, here are Victory's problematic and false claims:
We know that Covid-19 is a mild disease in the vast majority of people. 85% of people who contract Covid-19 have few if any symptoms at all.
As Lead Stories reported on May 21, 2020, new research by the University of Washington found the national rate of death among people infected with the novel coronavirus and who show symptoms is 1.3%, which is 13 times worse than the death rate for seasonal flu. Experts say it is too early to know what percent of people infected by the novel coronavirus show symptoms, although by June, 2020, studies indicated the majority do not show symptoms.
This particular virus doesn't do well when exposed to warm temperatures or to sunshine. It simply can't survive for more than a few minutes when the temperatures are above about 70 degrees and certainly not when temperatures are in the mid-80s or higher.
The World Health Organization's "Myth Busters" web page reports cases have been confirmed in countries with hot climates and that exposure to sun and warm temperatures are not adequate to kill the virus.
Children are at virtually no risk.
Lead Stories asked Dr. Paul Pottinger to review that claim. He is head of the University of Washington Medical Center Infectious Disease Section, and has been leading the efforts to fight the pandemic in the first U.S. city to face a major outbreak. "We absolutely DO know enough to say that healthy kids are NOT SAFE TO GET IT, due to a risk of many serious complications and outcomes such as (Multi-Inflammatory Syndrome), pneumonia, and death," he wrote in an email on July 10, 2020.
In fact outside of New York City this virus has essentially been a nursing home problem. The general public has simply not been impacted the way the media and public health officials have led us to believe.
Contacted July 10, 2020, by phone, the director of the Hawaii Disease Outbreak Control Division, Dr. Sarah Park, said COVID-19 is not just a nursing home problem. "It might make all our lives easier...but that's not the truth," said Park, who trained in pediatric infectious disease. In Hawaii there have been "plenty" of patients in their 30s hospitalized with COVID-19, said Park, adding that in Hawaii, the youngest fatality as of July 10, 2020, was a 50-year-old.
Social distancing isn't even an established health care concept ... The whole idea of social distancing was based on a theoretical model explored by a high school student in a science fair some years ago.
The CDC provides a list of multiple studies it used when developing social distancing guidelines during the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barak Obama, including this look at the impact of mass gatherings and holiday travel on flu transmission. One early test of the concept was conducted for a high school science fair, but that is not the only basis for its use.
Multiple medical organizations have now acknowledged that there is no scientific justification for normal healthy people to be wearing masks ... Many of them are not porous enough to allow carbon dioxide that we exhale to fully dissipate. So in every inhalation we breathe back in more carbon dioxide ... habitual wearing of masks decreases the body's natural immune response.
On the contrary, while the U.S. government sought to protect the supply of masks early in the pandemic by discouraging non-professionals from buying them up, multiple reports have shown widespread use of medical masks reduce transmission and policy makers now urge Americans to wear medical masks to prevent spread of the virus.
Lead Stories has previously debunked claims that mask-wearers risk excessive carbon dioxide. Breathing is not the only way our immune systems gets its necessary microbial challenges, since food, drink and surface contact also expose us to microbes.
There is a very low risk from exposure to children ... They have on average less than 25% less than a quarter of the viral load that we find in adults ... This may be part of the reason that children simply don't become sick with the virus but it also means that we don't need to be concerned about being in close contact with them.
The University of Washington Medical Center's COVID-19 expert strongly disputes this. "We do NOT have reliable information to prove that infected children pose no risk to adults," Dr. Paul Pottinger wrote in response to Lead Stories' request for a review of Victory's claims. "We DO consider ALL patients to be at risk of spreading the infection to others, regardless of their age." Pottinger has been leading the downtown Seattle hospital's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
... let people be exposed to the disease knowing that they won't likely become ill but thereby allowing them to develop antibodies naturally so that another outbreak can't and won't occur. Therefore, one of the best things we can do is allow children to be out and about, knowing that if they do get exposed, they have virtually no risk of actually becoming ill but they will develop antibodies that will protect them and others from future outbreaks by contributing to the overall immunity of the herd.
Dr. O'Leary, the Colorado University infectious disease expert cited earlier, said neither math nor experience with COVID-19 support her claim.
He said the idea of herd immunity without a vaccine is unrealistic. Already, with only about 5% of the U.S. population infected, there have been more than 135,000 deaths due to COVID-19. "(We) likely need between 40-60% of the population infected to achieve any herd immunity ... just do the math," he wrote in an email response to questions about the claims in Victory's video. He suggests the resulting number of deaths could range from 1 million to 1.6 million. "The other big mistake," O'Leary wrote, is that even if that somehow did contribute to herd immunity, they (children) would be bringing it home and giving to their older family members. It's a terrible idea. She is spreading dangerous misinformation."
At 14:31, Victory claims, in an apparent reference to hydroxychloroquine, that doctors are proving a drug that has been used for more than 60 years to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus is a safe treatment for those with COVID-19:
Fortunately more and more doctors around the world have been using this drug for patients with COVID-19 and treating those patients early on in their illnesses. So we are gathering a tremendous amount of data that will allow us to say with certainty that it is effective.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cautioned physicians to stop treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, citing risks to heart health.
Lead Stories has reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and to several other infectious disease experts to check Victory's claims and will update this report, if needed, when we hear back from them.