Former Wausauer doctor explains position after speech on online attacks
His opponents, who attack him and publicly try to do so, also recognize his impeccable reputation for his specialty, thoracic surgery.
Dr. Fernando ‘Fritz’ Riveron, born in Cuba and now living in Florida, practiced medicine in Wausau for many years and earned great recognition and respect for his work at Aspirus. He takes pride in his “nuanced” approaches to medical challenges, including Covid-19, and emphasizes cost-benefit analysis as he weighs options for each treatment.
But his roughly 30-minute speech at an anti-mandate, anti-vaccine and anti-mask rally last weekend in Marshfield, organized by grassroots activist group Get Involved Wisconsin, attracts heated controversy on social media and violent backlash from a former democrat after being a candidate for the state parliament.
The speech and rally comes at a time when COVID-19-related cases, hospital admissions and deaths have risen to their highest level since winter, largely due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Riveron told Wausau Pilot & Review that his speech was not intended to divide, but rather to encourage courtesy and understand different opinions.
“The overarching theme of my presentation that I tried to put in my conclusions was that the answer to most medical questions should be ‘it depends’,” wrote Dr. Riveron. “Doctors and scientists deal with probability and statistical bell curves on each data set.”
In the speech, he mentions extending this understanding to others – but also uses strong language against those with whom he disagrees.
In a letter to Wausau Pilot & Review, Dr. Riveron for regretting calling the National Education Association “evil” twice during the rally (insisting on masks in classrooms) and conceding the possibility that the insistence that natural immunity is better than that provided by vaccines Immunity, which could give the impression to people unwilling to vaccinate that they do not need to have the vaccination. Experts, including those of Dr. Riveron cited above, have said that while natural immunity is permanent, it is still advisable to have at least one injection.
Others say that having natural immunity is not enough.
The Doctor, a Republican who considered running for Congress in 2019 but has run out of political ambitions, also fought with people in the “I will not consent” crowd over masking at school. He was booed by crowds for suggesting that if masks were the only way to get kids to school, they should, as kids have suffered in virtual learning situations.
Riveron also advised that people who are obese or older should actually take the vaccine.
But his speech also cast serious doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines for all – advice that runs counter to health officials and credible infectious disease experts, including several that Dr. Riveron quoted Wausau Pilot & Review as saying.
Some of his claims – that the risk of COVID-19 is “almost zero” for people under 40 or under and “essentially zero” for those under 12 depend on the level of risk being discussed. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Health System, said younger adults are actually at risk for COVID infections and serious complications.
“Data from one study shows that of more than 3,000 adults aged 18 to 34 who contracted COVID-19 and became so sick they needed hospital treatment, 21% ended up in intensive care, 10% up.” a ventilator was placed and 2.7% died, ”wrote Prof. Maragakis.
Similarly, Aaron Michael Milstone, an expert on infectious diseases in children at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that children and young children “can develop complications that require hospitalization and can pass the virus on to others.”
Dr. Riveron defended his statement by pointing out that child mortality rates “in this age group were consistently lower than those of influenza”. He also referred to an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which said that among the states reported, 0.00% -0.24% of all COVID-19 deaths are children. “There is considerable debate in the literature, especially from overseas, about the logic of vaccination in low-risk groups, especially children,” added Dr. Riveron added.
However, AAP notes that children accounted for 14.8% of the total cumulative cases since the pandemic began. In the week that ended August 26, 22.4% of the weekly reported COVID-19 cases were children.
In the past few weeks, a number of outspoken critics have changed their position against the vaccine following illness. The wife of Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, who has been hospitalized since August 16 and was placed on a ventilator a few days later, is now asking people to get vaccinated. So did a number of conservative radio talk show hosts, including Phil Valentine and others. Several have expressed remorse for not asking people to get vaccinated. Still others secretly take the vaccines because they fear that friends and family members might ostracize them.
Scientists and health experts around the world largely believe that COVID-19 is more deadly than the flu, more contagious, and spreads faster. While the effects of seasonal flu cannot be downplayed, symptoms of Covid-19 are causing more severe illness and have caused more deaths. To date, the virus has resulted in more than 640,000 deaths in the United States and more than 4.54 million deaths worldwide since last year.
Riveron said he was concerned about the “dangers of echo chambers creating hatred, division, misinformation and dangerous polarization”. He said: “The dangerous combination of technology politics (social media) and monetary interests is perhaps the greatest danger to our democracy.”
As an example of “malicious trolls vitriol” on social media, Dr. Riveron on a Facebook post by Kirk Bangstad, owner of Minocqua Brewing Company and former Democratic candidate for Assembly Dist. in Wisconsin. 34, a race he lost last year. In the post, Bangstad cites some of Riveron’s comments and accuses him of spreading misinformation about Covid-19.
“We think that Dr. Riveron’s comments are too dangerous to give him a platform – especially because his dangerous views are considered credible given his profession, ”Bangstad wrote in his post. “While a heart surgeon is definitely not an expert on virology or infectious diseases by definition, the average Joe doesn’t care – ‘he’s a doctor, he knows more than me, he has to be right.'”
Bangstad, who is charged with defamation by a media company, accuses the media of being too weak.
While he said that the people of America “are allowed to speak our mind,” he seems to Dr. Not to grant Riveron this freedom.
Bangstad acknowledged Riveron is free to speak his mind, but told Wausau Pilot & Review that there should be consequences for spreading harmful information.
“If you shout ‘fire’ in a theater, cause a rush and people might be injured or die, you should be held accountable for it,” said Bangstad. “He should go to jail for that.”
Bangstad said Riveron’s medical background made his views a lot more dangerous because he is a doctor.
But Riveron has called the vaccines “phenomenal triumphs”. However, the doctor added a caveat that people should decide for themselves whether or not to get vaccinated.
Dr. Riveron contradicted Bangstad’s attacks on him and encouraged others on social media to do so. Bangstad, who shared a link on his Facebook page to a Department of Safety and Professional Services complaint form against the doctor, recently doubled his testimony. “He should lose his license to practice medicine,” he said.
Hear Dr. Riveron. His comments begin at around 4:40 p.m.
Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member of Report for America, a GroundTruth Project initiative that places journalists in local newsrooms. Reach him at email@example.com.