This story has been updated with follow-up comments from Dr. Phil, which you can find below.
TV show host Phil “Dr. Phil” McGraw appeared to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday’s episode of “The Ingraham Angle” on Fox News, rattling off a series of statistics with at least one glaring error — the number of people who die in swimming pools every year.
Reaction to the appearance was such that Dr. Phil was trending very highly on Twitter as critics ripped him for his incorrect stats and for arguing in favor of reopening the country before we have a handle on the pandemic.
“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 they’re doing that because people are dying from the coronavirus. I get that,” Dr. Phil said to Ingraham via Skype. Watch the exchange here.
“But look, the fact that the matter is we have people dying, 45,000 people a year 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 it for this? And the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”
Dr. Phil appears on Laura Ingraham and says we don’t shut the country down for automobile deaths, cigarette related deaths, and swimming pool deaths pic.twitter.com/q8KCgLLClY
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) April 17, 2020
Some of Dr. Phil’s numbers are pretty sketchy. In the United States, there are not 45,000 car deaths each year. Though the yearly total has increased the last few years up to about 40,000 per year. But it’s been more than a decade since we hit the 45,000 mark.
The swimming pools thing is a much bigger leap. Dr. Phil says 360,000 people die each year in swimming pools, but in reality the U.S. averaged only 3,536 unintentional (as in, not murder or suicide) drowning deaths each year from 2005 to 2014, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that includes drowning deaths in other types of bodies of water, not just swimming pools.
Dr. Phil’s comments echo Republican talking points from early March, when Donald Trump compared the coronavirus pandemic to the seasonal flu. Thus far, more than 30,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., with nearly all of those deaths coming in the past month.
UPDATE: Dr. Phil followed up on these comments in his daily Instagram Live video, which you can watch here. He said that he has always been in favor of shutting things down to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but is concerned about the potential negative mental health outcomes from having folks locked down for so long.
He also clarified that he was referring to worldwide drowning death numbers from the World Health Organization, which puts the total number of annual unintentional drowning at about 320,000.