As coronavirus cases surge and hospitals already experience a shortage of equipment, Americans should forgo buying and wearing protective masks, says television host and heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, also known as Dr. Oz.
“It is your patriotic duty to not use a mask,” says Oz, in a newly released interview on “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” taped on Monday. “We don’t have enough of them.”
The strain that the coronavirus outbreak will place on the U.S. healthcare system could overwhelm the available resources, jeopardizing the nation’s response, Oz said.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that a community health clinic in Minnesota was considering shutting down because it didn’t have enough masks — and that doctors at a St. Louis hospital were wearing ill-fitting masks while treating coronavirus patients. Other physicians at a Los Angeles emergency room were given expired masks.
“If the hospital system gets sick — either the doctors themselves or the hospital can’t keep up with the flow — that’s the weak link in our society,” he says. “We can deal with this otherwise.”
The worst-case scenario
Oz raised a possible worst-case scenario in which ill patients cannot receive needed medical care due to a lack of available hospital space or equipment, noting that such an outcome has taken place in Italy, where on Thursday the number of coronavirus-related deaths surpassed China, a country with a population more than 20 times greater.
“You have critically ill people waiting in gurneys and hallways while their brethren are being saved,” Oz says. “That’s what happened in Italy.”
As people infected with the virus seek medical help, hospital workers across the country are encountering a shortage of masks, surgical gowns, and eye gear, The New York Times reported. Anticipating the high demand for masks, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams called on Americans late last month to cease purchasing them.
“Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams tweeted on Feb. 29. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Oz made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Since 2009, Oz has hosted “Dr. Oz,” a daily talk show on personal and public health issues with millions of viewers. For nearly three decades, Oz has worked as a heart surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City. In 2003, he founded HealthCorps, a nonprofit that helps teenagers take care of their physical and mental health.
Many physicians have criticized Oz for providing self-care and medical advice that they say does not pass scientific muster, calling on Columbia University to end its affiliation with him. Notably, he backed a study on green coffee bean weight loss pills that was later discredited.
Oz emphasized a shortage of N95 masks, thicker masks that fit more tightly than standard surgical masks and prevent an individual from breathing in smaller particles. Medical professionals receive a special fitting for such masks, but they are not effective when bought online by everyday people, Oz said.
“You’re literally just finding a N95 mask on Amazon and putting it on,” he says. “So if you have facial hair, it won’t work. If it doesn’t fit your face correctly, it won’t work. Anyway, so why waste your money and take a mask out of circulation that we could have used to keep nurses and doctors healthy?”
“The hospitals are under-supplied of masks,” he adds. “And the nurses and doctors can’t use enough of these N95 masks.”