Alaska pediatricians criticize Anchorage’s chief medical officer over ‘grossly misleading’ comments on COVID

Dr. Michael Savitt, Anchorage’s chief medical officer, poses for a portrait after a meeting with reporters on Thursday, July 29, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska chapter of a national group of pediatricians has written a blistering letter to Dr. Michael Savitt, Anchorage’s chief medical officer, criticizing recent statements he made on the effectiveness of masking and the spread of COVID-19 in the city.

The Oct. 14 letter from the Alaska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics lists three primary concerns with remarks made by Savitt at an Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday. At the meeting, the Assembly was debating an emergency masking ordinance, which ultimately went back into effect last week after being vetoed by Mayor Dave Bronson.

Savitt was prompted by Chugiak/Eagle River Assembly member Jamie Allard at the meeting to speak to the apparent decline in daily case rate of COVID-19 cases in Anchorage.

“That was somewhere in the 140s per 100,000. It is now down to 115.1 per 100,000,” Savitt said. “That has been steadily trending downward.”

Savitt later offered this assessment of the case count: “All of the numbers look good.”

In its letter, the pediatrician group fired back: “By no public health definition is a rate of 115 cases per 100,000 per day a ‘good’ number.” The letter went on to note that on Wednesday, Anchorage’s case rate was more than four times the national rate.

Authors of the letter also criticized Savitt’s comparison of the numbers in the city to the numbers recorded by the Anchorage School District, which implemented a mask mandate in August.

Here’s what Savitt said about the district.

“Their active case was 448 as opposed to our 181. And their total cases are over 2,800,” Savitt said. “Now that’s a mix between students and faculty, they don’t break that down. So I’m not quite sure that the masks are actually helping, at least where the school is concerned.”

The letter called Savitt’s recounting of 181 active cases as “grossly misleading”.

“There are an average of 339 new cases per day in Anchorage and each of these cases is ‘active’ for at least ten days,” the letter said. “There are easily several thousand active COVID-19 cases in Anchorage at this moment and comparing a single day’s incident cases to the ASD’s well-monitored active case dashboard is incompetent at best and disinformative at worst.”

The final major criticism laid out against Savitt in the letter regarded comments he made on the masking ordinance.

“I am vaccinated,” Savitt said. “But as a courtesy to the Assembly, because you requested we wear masks, I’m wearing one. I don’t need a mandate to tell me to wear a mask.”

In response to Savitt’s remarks, the pediatrician group wrote that not everyone shares Savitt’s “courtesy.”

“Surgical masks and cloth face coverings are substantially more effective when all are wearing masks due to the source control provided to infectious individuals,” the letter said.

In the letter, the doctors were not uniformly critical of Savitt. The authors began the letter by praising an op-ed written by Savitt and published by the Anchorage Daily News on Monday. Savitt urged people to stop attacking medical personnel.

However, the letter ended with a critique of Savitt’s objectivity. It noted that while Savitt criticized wearing masks at Tuesday’s meeting, he had stated his support for masking in the past.

“We no longer feel that you demonstrate the ability to actively and objectively advocate for the public welfare of the residents of this community,” authors wrote in the letter’s last paragraph.

In an email statement, Dr. Savitt called the letter an attack on his character.

“They are upset with me for not supporting a mask mandate as they previously requested,” Savitt said. “My responses when asked by Anchorage Assembly members were factual and based on State of Alaska data.”

Asked to comment beyond the letter itself, American Academy of Pediatrics Alaska Chapter Executive Director Dale Knutsen wrote: “All of the physician signers are busy caring for patients today. We would like the letter to speak for itself.”

Alaska Public Media

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