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A photo of Mikhail Varshavski, DO, known as “Dr Mike,” maskless and inches apart from fellow partiers on a recent boat excursion in Miami, has stirred up controversy across social media.
In another incident last weekend, Salem Health in Oregon announced that one of its nurses, identified in media reports as Ashley Grames, who worked on an oncology unit, was put on leave pending an investigation after she was seen on TikTok bragging about not wearing a mask. That video has since been removed but reappeared in “duet” form.
Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Medscape Medical News that medical providers should be held to a higher standard with all COVID-19 precautions — at work and in their personal lives.
Calls of Hypocrisy
Varshavski, who has 6.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and 3-4 million followers on Facebook and Instagram, has been a vocal proponent of wearing a mask and social distancing. Pictures of himself doing neither on the boat led to calls of hypocrisy and posts of disappointment.
According to the Daily Mail’s report , Varshavski, a primary care physician in Chatham, New Jersey, flew from New York City to Miami to celebrate his 31st birthday on November 12 in Miami’s Sunset Harbor.
After the photo went viral, Varshavski apologized on YouTube on November 27.
“I messed up. I really did,” he said. “And I need to do better.”
Varshavski did not respond to a request for comment from Medscape Medical News by publication time, but acknowledged in the video that his actions can “harm the medical message that I’ve been delivering from the beginning of this pandemic: that COVID-19 is serious; that masks are a benign, yet important, measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
“Attack me,” he said. “Don’t attack the science.”
He added that he would be “following the proper quarantining and testing protocols returning back to New York.”
But calls of hypocrisy came quickly on social media for both Varshavski and the nurse. Some used the information to bolster theories that virus precautions are overblown.
James Todaro, MD, tweeted that the incident was “hypocrisy at its finest.
“Apparently the famous ‘Dr Mike’ doesn’t care about ‘grandma’ when it comes to birthdays and bikinis,” Todaro wrote.
Hypocrisy at its finest.
— James Todaro, MD (@JamesTodaroMD) November 25, 2020
Another follower tweeted, “Ive been following since the start of my med school journey.. idk how to feel.. but sad :((.”
Ive been following since the start of my med school journey.. idk how to feel.. but sad :((
— فُـ,ـرحـًـًًـًًًـًًـًـ (@d2achwita) November 30, 2020
Salem Health, which employs the nurse, said on its Facebook page that the nurse “displayed cavalier disregard for the seriousness of this pandemic and her indifference toward physical distancing and masking outside of work. This video has prompted an outcry from concerned community members.”
The health system added, “We also want to assure you that this one careless statement does not reflect the position of Salem Health or the hardworking and dedicated caregivers who work here.”
A commenter on the page wrote, “The fact that this nurse was charged with the care of some of the most immunocompromised patients and has such a blatant disregard for preventative measures shows her blatant disregard for those patients’ lives.”
Varshavski had preached mask-wearing consistently on his online platforms and TV appearances.
In July, he pleaded for more mask-wearing for the sake of health and the economy in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business: “Please,” he said, “if you’re going outside in public and are going to be around other people, wear a mask. It doesn’t matter if it’s silk, cotton or surgical grade.”
He also talked with Anthony Fauci, MD, the nation’s top infectious disease official, in March on the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.
Providers Should Be Called Out
Caplan said that any provider flouting COVID-19 rules and protocols should be called out. That’s true whether on the job or elsewhere, he said.
“They are role models,” he said. “The community looks to them for advice and instruction in the middle of a plague. They are powerful social media influencers.”
Dr Mike deserves even more condemnation, Caplan said, because of his celebrity and the breadth of his platform.
“He fails completely in being an appropriate role model and he should be called out, and he deserves even more criticism than he’s getting so far,” Caplan said.
Caplan is a regular contributor to Medscape Medical News.
Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com, and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.