Citing ‘misleading’ statements about masks and COVID-19, group of pediatricians in Alaska wonder if Anchorage’s chief medical officer is fit for the role
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a response from Dr. Michael Savitt.
An Alaskan pediatrician organization denounced recent statements by the Anchorage Department of Health’s chief medical officer in a letter Thursday, questioning his objectivity, claiming he had made several inaccurate statements and questioning his suitability for the role.
In the letter from members of the American Academy of Pediatrics Alaska Chapter to Dr. Michael Savitt, an Anchorage pediatrician and chief medical officer, doctors listed several points of concern about Savitt’s comments at a meeting of the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday.
Among them: Savitt’s description of Anchorage’s COVID-19 case numbers as “good” and his statements questioning the effectiveness of mask wearing. The group also cited “serious concerns” about Savitt’s objectivity.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, a staunch opponent of government restrictions on COVID-19, hired Savitt in July following the abrupt resignation of the health department epidemiologist.
[Anchorage Assembly overrides Mayor Bronson’s veto of mask emergency ordinance]
“As colleagues and peers, as well as concerned citizens of this city, we no longer believe that you demonstrate your ability to accurately and objectively defend the public welfare of the residents of this community,” the doctors wrote to Savitt. “The actions of this administration suggest that either your advice has been contrary to best public health practice or that your advice has been ignored altogether.”
“In any case, we ask you to determine if your role is really contributing to the fight against our common enemy: the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
Savitt said in an emailed statement Friday that he was disappointed with the pediatrician group’s statements and called them an attack on his character.
“They are angry with me for not supporting a mask warrant as they requested previously. My responses to questions from members of the Anchorage Assembly were factual and based on data from the state of Alaska, ”said Savitt. “I have repeatedly stated that I support vaccinations and CDC recommendations, including proper use of masks, hand hygiene, hand washing, social distancing, and good room ventilation. “
Savitt made statements to the Assembly on Tuesday as the body voted to approve an emergency ordinance requiring city residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces. He was responding to a question from Assembly member Jamie Allard, who opposes the mask ordinance and asked him to “explain to members of the body how much our COVID cases have declined.”
“All the numbers look good,” Savitt told members of the assembly, pointing to the 14-day moving average of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Anchorage.
Doctors refuted this point in the letter, citing Anchorage’s still high COVID-19 transmission rate and the limited capacity of the intensive care unit.
“By no standard definition of public health, a rate of 115 cases per 100,000 people per day is a ‘good’ number,” they said.
Savitt said his response was factual, based on numbers he reports to the Assembly weekly and that he was “cautiously optimistic.”
“I informed them that the 14-day moving average and the number of reproductions tended to go down,” said Savitt.
Additionally, the group said Savitt inaccurately compared the Anchorage School District COVID-19 cases and Anchorage cases when he told Assembly members he was “not quite sure the masks actually help, at least as far as school is concerned. “
Doctors called the point “grossly misleading,” saying it far under-represented the number of active COVID-19 cases in the city when compared to the number of active cases in the school district. .
Savitt claimed he “has not commented on the effectiveness (of) their mask mandate.”
“I referred to the Anchorage School District with its mask mandate and its number of active and total cases,” he said.
Doctors also took issue with how Savitt spoke about wearing a mask during the meeting:
“I am vaccinated, but out of courtesy to the Assembly, because you asked us to wear masks, I wear one. I don’t need a warrant to tell me to wear a mask, ”Savitt told Assembly members.
Doctors said others choose not to wear non-prescription masks and face coverings are “much more effective when ALL are wearing masks because of the source control provided to INFECTIOUS people.”
[Alaska reports nearly 1,000 COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths and another uptick in hospitalizations Thursday]
Federal Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention recommends that people wear a mask regardless of vaccination status in areas with high COVID-19 transmission. Alaska’s COVID-19 case rate is currently the highest in the country per 100,000 people over the past week, and Anchorage specifically has a high level of community transmission, according to the CDC.
In the letter, doctors wrote that Savitt’s testimony undermined previous statements he had made in support of public health measures, such as COVID-19 vaccinations. Based on listening to the testimony, doctors wrote that they understood it to not believe that residents of Anchorage should wear masks in public, which goes against state and federal guidelines.
“You, in your official capacity as the Chief Medical Officer of the Anchorage Department of Health, have provided the factually questionable statements summarized above at the request of a member of the Assembly, testifying essentially AGAINST one of the interventions health policy that you previously said you support, ”the letter says.
Prior to assuming the new role of chief medical officer, Savitt wrote numerous politically charged comments on a local conservative website during the pandemic. These comments criticized the Anchorage Assembly and former city governments for restrictions related to COVID-19, including previous mandates on masks and questioned the effectiveness of masks as a tool against the virus .
In an emailed statement in August in response to a question about the comments, Savitt said: “My comments, by themselves, are out of context. No matter how or why they were made, I should have been more judicious in my answers. I would also like to stress that my work ethic requires me to leave politics out of my decision-making and the way I exercise my responsibilities.
The current COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska, which swelled until the end of the summer and took the number of cases and hospitalizations for the virus to new pandemic heights, places an additional burden on already overburdened hospitals. In Anchorage, the three major hospitals have activated Crisis Care Standards to provide flexibility, protection against liability, and guidance on prioritization decisions when care and resources are lacking, although the situation varies from facility to facility. other and from one day to the next.
When contacted for comment, a representative from the Alaska Chapter of the AAP said via email that all of the doctors who signed the letter were busy treating the patients and that “we would like to leave the letter speak for itself “.
[Read the letter:]