ER doc says COVID is fading away? WTF?
November 15, 2020 11:40 AM   Subscribe

My wife's boss forwarded to her an email purporting to be from an ER doc in Atlanta who says COVID is withering away. My wife is beside herself. But, I'm at a loss as to how she might respond.

This email my wife's boss forwarded was apparently from a friend of her boss' who claims to know an ER doc in Atlanta who says that he barely sees maybe 3 or 4 COVID patients a week now, and they're all very mild cases and over it quickly. He opines that the CDC deals in theory while hospitals deal in reality, and the reality is that the virus has mutated and is far less dangerous now. They claim that the death rate for COVID is now way below that of the flu (I know, I know. Just bear with me)

They go on to say that the only people who might have anything to fear are the elderly with complicating issues like diabetes, CPOD, obesity, etc. Then, they hit with the obvious tell that this is a bullshit troll...they say people should be taking mega-doses of vitamin-C and zinc.

Now, my wife's boss is a nurse (it's a small unskilled home healthcare firm) and she should be able to smell this for the bs that it obviously is, but she apparently isn't. She's not a Trumper, either. She can't stand him or his followers. What I think is driving her susceptibility to this is her eagerness for the business to return to normalcy, and have the office staff back in the office full-time again, especially my wife. This, despite the face that they currently have clients who either have COVID or have been exposed, and cases are spiking rapidly here in Indiana. Hell, two of the office staff had to be tested just four weeks ago (both negative).

That this email supposedly comes from Atlanta raises real red flags for me, too, given the upcoming Georgia runoffs. This is exactly the kind of viral garbage that would be shoveled out in hopes of blunting the use of COVID as a talking point for democrats. However, I my Google-fu has failed me in an attempt to find anything similar making the viral rounds.

My wife is very upset that her boss sent her this. They normally have a very friendly, very good working relationship, and I know her boss depends on her and values her. My wife feels like she needs to gently debunk this email, but without anything solid to show it's bs, she feels hamstrung to reply in a positive manner. She definitely doesn't want to get into a pissing match of battling Facebook posts or anything like that.

What should she do? Has anyone here encountered a similar "ER doc" email? Suggestions for gently debunking the email without it turning into a fight?
posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
“Nice email. We take our directions from the $local board of health, not random doctors distributing bullshit via spam.”
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2020 [17 favorites]

Ok, the problem here isn't so much the email but that your wife's boss is signaling that she may have to go back to work in the office.

What she needs to do is email her boss about whether it is necessary for her to come back in. She should also highlight her ability to work from home (I have no idea whether staying at home is actually hampering her or not, but highlight the positives!) If she has any health issues that might raise her covid risk, highlight those as well.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of staggered openings and closings ahead. It's also really unfortunate that a nurse thinks you can stuff yourself with vitamin C and zinc to cure covid, but I suspect money is talking in this case.
posted by kingdead at 11:52 AM on November 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'd be combing about for a collection of news articles from sites with good reputations and sending that in response. Does your county have a dashboard showing how many cases per day are going up? I'd send that too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2020

What she needs to do is email her boss about whether it is necessary for her to come back in.


Forward directly to HR - right now, even if it's a Sunday - and ask, as politely and succinctly as you can, if this indicates a published change in the company's current policy about COVID-19.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2020 [57 favorites]

The email itself is triple hearsay, that's enough social cover to just sort of ignore it.

If the goal is to actually argue against it, I have had good luck in COVID-related discussions saying things like "I hope this turns out to be true, but I'm not yet convinced".

This is honest -- I do hope the disease mutates to be less dangerous, or that a simple treatment will be found, or whatever. It helps to put me and the person spreading the misinformation on the same side, and shows that I'm not one of the people (they do exist!) who gets an emotional kick out of having a disaster to freak out about.

This makes it easier to have the rest of the conversation -- as long as everyone is not pissed off at each other, even very gullible people actually realize that a random email or text message is not enough justification to completely upend how they manage COVID risks.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2020 [30 favorites]

If there is an HR department.

While I’m not in the healthcare industry, we are being told the office is open, head honchos work in the office all the time, we should be cautious but come in even though they’ve extended the wfh orders through January. HR isn’t even admitting we’ve had cases in the office and certainly won’t contradict the head honcho.
posted by tilde at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2020

Did you check Snopes? I’d also suggest googling “Covid conspiracies” and also doing a phrase check (with quotes) for a few different short phrases in the letter. It’s probably not new or from Atlanta, so I wouldn’t put those words in your search. It might be from last spring and unrelated to the election.

Barring that, given that this is her boss, how about looking at something like the Atlanta or Georgia public health authority and sharing something like that? I’d be careful with the wording. Maybe something like, “Oh, wow! I’m trying to figure out how this aligns with what I’m seeing from the Fulton County Health Authority, which is showing only X% of ICU beds available.” Or you use a link from the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece about local Covid cases and health professionals.

She shouldn’t debunk it herself but respond in a more neutral, concerned way, with a link to something from a very reputable source. Let the source do the work.

And if the boss replies... she needs to let it go, I think. The boss might need to sit on this for a bit. But also... I’d suggest your wife wait a bit to respond so she’s doing it some with some emotional space. I know this totally sucks.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:02 PM on November 15, 2020 [13 favorites]

You do not have to prove that this is viral BS, you can just point out that it's

- not reflective of the situation in Atlanta right now as reported by reputable news outlets (link, link to governor renewal of COVID restrictions)
- not relevant to Indiana which has a different public health response and profile (link)
- not backed by any science that has been confirmed (link about what we know about virus mutation, link talking about zinc)

And if it were me I'd be sending this to HR as well.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on November 15, 2020 [23 favorites]

I'm going to guess there's no HR and at best maybe one person above Boss. I would reply simply that I'm distressed and disappointed to receive un-verified rumormongering that is damaging to public health like this, not to mention from a medical professional, and ask not to be sent this type of material again. You could go a smidge further and ask for confirmation that this material is not being sent to customers/patients.

That's all you can do without making the kind of huge stink that will likely cause a disruption in employment, and even pretty mild response like above theoretically might piss her off enough to get fired, so you'd need to be willing to run that risk if you say anything at all.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on November 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

You could file a complaint with the Department of Labor if there are any substantial changes that result from this email.

But maybe your wife could first follow up with your boss to see if she actually read the email (maybe just a blind forward?) and ask if she thinks this applies to your county in Indiana, and why it should differ from the official statistics in Indiana, and whether this indicates an upcoming change in policy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:19 PM on November 15, 2020

The death rate is falling (one part of it might be that masks are making some cases less severe) but this article notes that it's still higher than the flu.
posted by pinochiette at 12:23 PM on November 15, 2020

. He opines that the CDC deals in theory while hospitals deal in reality,

The email writer attempts to inoculate themself against arguments based on most of the factual sources suggested, by dismissing anything other than first-hand hospital experience as "theory." I'd go with vogon_poet's script "it would be wonderful if that turned out to be true" and add something along the lines of... "not get my hopes up based on second-hand info from one person..." ( and I would be tempted to add "claiming to be an ER doctor." But then you might get her digging in to defend her friends' reliability.)
posted by evilmomlady at 12:26 PM on November 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don’t know if sharing this with her boss would be the right strategy here, but a series of tweets from an ER nurse in South Dakota have been getting passed around in my circles recently, and her experiences/tweets show pretty clearly that COVID isn’t getting milder or fading away.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2020

The death rate is falling

That article is one month old. The death rate is not falling in the US.
posted by Thella at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

The COVID death rates are indeed falling; here's Nature from 4 days ago that's talking about COVID deaths/COVID cases. If you're talking about the rates of deaths per 1 United States, that rate is climbing.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:54 PM on November 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

What should she do? Has anyone here encountered a similar "ER doc" email? Suggestions for gently debunking the email without it turning into a fight?

If hearsay from random people on the Internet is valuable, I can tell you what my brother, who is an ER doc in Santa Fe, is seeing: 3-4 intubations per 12h shift, whereas over the summer even one was a rarity.

Covid is not going away, and it's not getting milder.
posted by kdar at 2:25 PM on November 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

If I were her, I think I'd not engage whatsoever with the boss on it, and forward it higher up with a level of concern that she's getting inconsistent messaging from management about current policy and just wants to clarify what the official stance is.
posted by augustimagination at 2:47 PM on November 15, 2020

Since it's a "friend of a friend" and therefore has "authority," I'd follow up by asking (not sarcastically, but kindly) what ER this doctor works at, and even if she could find out from her "friend." Also, things getting slightly better in one part of the country doesn't mean much in other parts.

It sounds like the boss might be the business owner, which would make HR less useful.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:02 PM on November 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe ask what the name of this doctor in Atlanta is? It's an innocent sounding question, and maybe that may trigger the boss to do a search and find out that "oh, wait, this doctor doesn't exist."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 PM on November 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

The covid rate in Georgia has fallen dramatically. At some point, maybe in July, Georgia had the highest rate of per capita covid cases of all the states. I was there then and posted on facebook that we were number one. I got that info from this website which currently lists Georgia at number 48 of 50 US states + DC. (You may need to click on states or counties, the default seems to be US Congressional districts.)

I've lived in Georgia for the last ten years. I'm honestly baffled by our drop and I don't think it's a case of serious under-reporting. I've actually been in upstate NY since August with my family, but I did go back down to early vote in October. From early March to mid-August when I left, as well as in October when I was back there for a few days, mask-wearing was not nearly as widespread as it is in NY. Although we did have a shelter in place rule it was lifted early. Check this website for Georgia-specific (or any other state) info and projections.

I think what that doc sent to your wife's boss was bullshit, especially considering they work in home health care with presumably vulnerable home-bound patients. Did the letter include the name of the ER doc in Atlanta? If it didn't then it's a total fabrication and if it did consider writing to the hospital that doc supposedly works at to complain about his spread of potentially lethal misinformation.
posted by mareli at 4:42 PM on November 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

"I really pray this is true! Let's keep an eye on the numbers in our area and see what happens."

Because I actually DO pray it's true. It would be awesome if covid cases were declining and the virus mutated into something less severe. I don't think that's what's actually happening. But I do think that starting with areas of agreement - that we both want the numbers to go down - is a crucial starting point for any debunking.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:51 PM on November 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

What is your wife’s goal? Because if her goal is to persuade someone who is susceptible to misinformation to stop believing in misinformation, I am sorry but she will not succeed. Like, that should be blindingly obvious by now. Gentle probing, modeling skepticism, quoting experts, offering reliable sources: these are things that do not work with people who are not rational. If the boss believes the email, your wife will not change her mind.

If your wife’s goal is to not return to the office, then I think she should ignore this email and gather her resources for the day when she is told to come back. Even then, I think the path to success won’t include facts and data, it’ll be something more like what kingdead advised. Like, she will want to get an exemption from policy because she is high risk or has to care for someone who is high risk. Basically what I’m saying is she won’t succeed by tackling the boss’s false premise head-on; she’ll succeed by (implicitly) accepting the premise and (explicitly) arguing that it doesn’t apply to her.
posted by Susan PG at 7:16 PM on November 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

A relative showed me a YouTube video with the same message over the summer. I don’t remember the place it was supposed to be from, but it also ended with zinc. So this isn’t new.

I mean, it’s possible that there exists a hospital with few Covid cases, but that doesn’t mean all hospitals have few cases.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:21 PM on November 15, 2020

Sunburnt, that Nature article isn't really saying what you say it is saying. It only covers stats to June and it says: Researchers have struggled to work out whether the COVID-19 death rates are truly dropping. The calculations can be complex. … The detailed data that are needed to parse these differences have been hard to come by in many countries, and that frustrates Andrew Levin, an economist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “We still don’t have the data that scientists and public-health officials should have,” he says.
posted by Thella at 9:26 PM on November 15, 2020

This is the kind of thing I would privately roll my eyes at and ignore. Unless the boss is using it as a justification for actual changes in the workplace, I don't see much point in engaging with it at all. If asked directly for my thoughts I would respond along the lines of "I hope that's true" or at most something like "that's an interesting viewpoint, it's not what I've heard from other sources".
posted by randomnity at 10:21 AM on November 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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