A Skeptical Look at Kelly Victory, M.D.

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 23, 2020

In a recent YouTube video, Kelly Victory, M.D. asserted that (a) COVID-19 is less serious than generally believed, (b) social distancing is not necessary, (c) wearing a mask does more harm than good, and (d) Americans should feel “secure and confident to fully return to your lives, your businesses, schools, and places of worship without fear and without limitations.” [1] The video had more than 700,000 views before YouTube removed it for violating its community guidelines. This article tells why I believe her advice is dangerous and should be ignored.

Background History

In the video, Dr. Victory introduces herself this way:

I’m a trauma and emergency physician with a specialty in disaster preparedness and response and the management of mass casualty. For the past two decades, I’ve been in public health working with and advising Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, schools, and municipalities; developing plans and training them to respond effectively to the worst ever cases whether that be a hurricane, a flood, an active shooter, or a pandemic.

Victory—whose formal first name is Colleen—was born in 1961 in Ohio. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, studied literature at Oxford University in England, and received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois [2]. After  obtaining her medical degree in 1990 from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine in 1990, she completed a residency program in trauma and emergency medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center. She became licensed in Colorado in 1993 and Ohio in 1995 and practiced emergency medicine until 1997 when she developed a degenerative spine disease that made it impossible to continue [3]. During the next few years, she co-founded and became managing partner of R.S. Gordon & Associates Inc., a consulting firm that specialized in medicolegal case review and care-quality reviews for hospitals. She was also involved with fundraising and marketing strategies for a number of health care and biotech companies [2]. From 2002 through 2008, she was the chief medical officer for Whole Health Management, which set up in-house health-care clinics for large companies [4]. She now resides in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She is not listed as a staff member of the hospital chain that serves that community.

Many websites, including her main blog site, describe Victory as board certified in emergency medicine. However, she is not listed in the database of the American Board of Medical Specialties or my 2007 Directory of Medical Specialists. I assume that she achieved certification during the 1990s but her certification is no longer current. If so, it would be misleading to describe herself as board-certified.

Since 2006, Victory has been president of Victory Health, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which provides organizational training for mass-casualty incidents. The company was registered as a for-profit corporation in Ohio from 2004 to 2005 and has been registered as a domestic limited liability company in Colorado since 2007.

In an online biography, Victory says she was “a member of” Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and “served for many years” on a leadership council at Harvard’s public health school. However, The Denver Post has reported that a Harvard spokesperson said that Victory went through a 10-day NPLI program about a dozen years ago and only briefly was a member of the leadership council [5]. She has also been a member of Gov. Mitt Romney’s healthcare policy team.

In 2008, Walgreens announced that it had purchased Whole Health Management, which it described this way:

Whole Health Management is a leading operator of on-site and near-site employer sponsored clinics, health and wellness centers, and pharmacies in the United States. Since 1981, Whole Health has provided comprehensive and integrated occupational health, preventive care, urgent and primary care, physical therapy, fitness programs, health risk and disease management, health coaching and behavioral health counseling to corporate employees and their families. Whole Health clinics deliver significant savings to corporations through lower health care costs, increased productivity, reduced employee sick time, and decreased pharmacy costs. Whole Health currently serves more than 300,000 employees, and in many cases, spouses and dependents, at 69 sites, including many large corporations and Fortune 500 companies [6].

I gather from all this that Dr. Victory was trained in emergency medicine and disaster preparedness, practiced emergency medicine for a few years, and then transitioned into administrative and consulting work. Her main experience—as part of a large team at Whole Health Management for six years— involved administrative supervision of a thriving chain of company clinics. Despite extensive online searching, I have found nothing about her professional activities since 2008. The people I trust most for advice about COVID-19 have extensive training, clinical experience, and research expertise in the fields of infectious disease, epidemiology, immunology, and statistics and are networked with other experts in these fields. She does not fit this description.

False Assertions in the Video

Victory’s 17½-minute video contains at least twelve statements that are false. My comments in bold red type explain why I believe they are false.

  1. “We know that COVID-19 is a mild disease in the vast majority of people; 85% of people who contract COVID-19 have few if any symptoms at all. Another 10% or so actually become ill the way you might with the flu and need to seek medical care, but only a very small number actually require hospitalization. And although any deaths are tragic, only a tiny fraction have died from this infection.” — I don’t believe enough is known to determine what percentages get sick enough to seek medical care and/or die. But—using Victory’s numbers—if taking no precautions means that 15% of the American public will become “ill the way you might with the flu,” that would be 50 million people, and a “tiny percentage” of deaths that would be hundreds of thousands. Moreover, many who do not die would develop serious and perhaps permanent complications. Victory’s numbers seem low because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 40% of Americans have at least one underlying health condition that would put them at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 [7],
  2. “This particular virus doesn’t do well when exposed to warm temperatures or to sunshine. It simply can’t survive for more than a few minutes when the temperatures are above about 70 degrees and certainly not when temperatures are in the mid-80s or higher.” — The recent surge of cases in Southern states make it clear that COVID-19 virus can spread easily in warm climates.
  3. “Outside of New York City this virus has essentially been a nursing home problem. The general public has simply not been impacted the way the media and public health officials have led us to believe. — The share of COVID-19 deaths occurring in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is estimated to be 40-45% [8]. That does not make the “general public” deaths any less serious. 
  4. “Social distancing isn’t even an established health care concept … The whole idea of social distancing was based on a theoretical model explored by a high school student in a science fair some years ago.” — In 2006, a very bright teenager developed a computer simulation with help from her father, who was a senior scientist at Sandia Laboratories’ National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center [9]. Since then, however, the concept has been extensively studied and proven valid [10]. One study of 58 cities, for example, has that each day’s delay in social distancing, added 2.4 days to the length of an outbreak [11].
  5. “Multiple medical organizations have now acknowledged that there is no scientific justification for normal healthy people to be wearing masks.” — When the pandemic became apparent, some organizations caused confusion by advising the general public against mask use so that frontline healthcare workers could obtain respirator (N95) masks that were in short supply. We now know it is possible for infected people to spread the disease before they develop symptoms and that cloth masks also reduce the distance that infectious particles can travel. So there is near-universal agreement among experts that cloth mask use plus social distancing will greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19 [12].
  6. Many masks “are not porous enough to allow carbon dioxide that we exhale to fully dissipate. So in every inhalation we breathe back in more carbon dioxide. — This claim is nonsensical. Masks reduce the spread of infectious droplets that can carry the virus [13], but the materials used are still porous enough to allow passage of gas molecules like carbon dioxide and oxygen, which are about 10,000 times smaller than the virus [14]. If carbon dioxide built up as Victory claims, medical professionals who wear tight-fitting respirator masks would quickly become short of breath. But that simply does not happen.
  7. “Habitual wearing of masks decreases the body’s natural immune response.” — It has been hypothesized that exposure to germs throughout life can bolster immunity. Even if this were proven true, there is no logical reason to believe that mask-wearing would interfere with this because masks are not airtight and are usually worn for short periods of time.
  8. “Children are at virtually no risk.” — The incidence of COVID-19 in children under age 10 is low but not zero. The incidence among children ages 10 to 19 is fairly low, but some have had severe complications. 
  9. “There is a very low risk from exposure to children . . . . We don’t need to be concerned about being in close contact with them. . . . One of the best things we can do is allow children to be out and about, knowing that if they do get exposed, they have virtually no risk of actually becoming ill but they will develop antibodies that will protect them and others from future outbreaks by contributing to the overall immunity of the herd.” — A large study from South Korea has found that “children younger than 10 transmit the coronavirus to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero.” Furthermore, those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do [15].
  10. Referring to hydroxychloroquine: “More and more doctors around the world have been using this drug for patients with COVID-19 and treating those patients early on in their illnesses. So we are gathering a tremendous amount of data that will allow us to say with certainty that it is effective. — Drugs should only be used if the expected benefits outweigh the probable risks. Three recent studies have found no benefit [16], and the the FDA has warned about significant risks, including death [17].
  11. “We know the things that are most useful in assuring that our immune systems are able to operate at peak efficiency. Healthy diet; adequate sleep; regular exercise; exposure to the sun; taking extra vitamin D, and vitamin C, and zinc particularly during cold and flu season.” — Although adequate amounts of these factors help maintain immune function, normal immune function is not sufficient to protect against COVID-19 infection. Taking extra nutrients has not been proven beneficial against respiratory diseases.
  12. It is safe “to fully return to your lives, your businesses, schools, and places of worship without fear and without limitations.” — Victory reasons that if things went back to normal, the pandemic would eventually subside because herd immunity would be achieved. There are several problems with this: (a) it is not yet known whether infection with the COVID-19 virus makes a person immune to future infection [18], (b) assuming that survivors will be immune, the percentage of the population needed to set up herd immunity is unknown but probably in the neighborhood of 70-90%, and (c) if 70-90% of 330 million people get infected with COVID-19, tens of millions would get very ill, millions would develop serious complications, and millions would die unnecessarily. These numbers are vastly greater than numbers experts now predict with social distancing and mask-wearing. The scientific community believes that herd immunity cannot be safely achieved until a vaccine is available.

Two other commentators have dissected other false assertions in the video [19,20].

Criminal Conviction

In 2012, a local newspaper reported that Victory was sentenced after pleading no contest to disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor). The charge stemmed from an early morning episode during which police said Victory displayed a .38-caliber handgun while arguing with another woman. Victory was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and using a weapon in a prohibited manner. (These charges were withdrawn.) Her sentence called for 24 hours of community service plus six months of unsupervised probation. She already had surrendered her concealed weapons permit and underwent an alcohol evaluation. Victory maintained that she had done nothing wrong. Her attorney said she pleaded no contest to bring an end to the painful legal process [21].

YouTube Removal

YouTube’s “COVID-19 Medical Misinformation Policy” states that videos can be removed if they spread medical misinformation that contradicts the World Health Organization or local health authorities’ medical information about treatment, prevention, diagnosis, or transmission of COVID-19 [22]. In August 2020, YouTube removed 24 copies of the video discussed in this article.

The Bottom Line

Colleen Victory, M.D. (a/k/a Kelly Victory) asserts that (a) concerns about the  COVID-19 pandemic are overblown, (b) wearing a mask does more harm than good, and (c) it is safe to “fully return to your lives, without fear and without limitations.” Her ideas were being spread primarily through a YouTube video that was filled with false information and poor medical reasoning. Following her advice might kill you. 

  1. Victory K. Breaking down – COVID-19. Posted to YouTube, July 6, 2020.
  2. Management team. Whole Health Management website, archived Feb 3, 2004. (Click link to Victory’s name).
  3. Kelly Victory. Crain’s Cleveland Business, July 5, 2004.
  4. Kelly Victory. Linkedin page, accessed July 19, 2020.
  5. Wingerter J. Colorado candidate campaigns with doctor who shared coronavirus conspiracy theories. The Denver Post, April 7, 2020.
  6. Walgreens completes acquisitions of worksite health care providers I-trax/CHD Meridian Healthcare and Whole Health Management. Businesswire, May 1, 2008.
  7. Razzaghi H and others. Estimated county-level prevalence of selected underlying medical conditions associated with increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness — United States, 2018. Morbidity snd Mortality Weekly Report 69:945-950, 2020.
  8. Roy H. Nursing home deaths from COVID-19: U.S. historical data. Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity web site, July 15, 2020.
  9. Reed O. Social distancing born in ABQ teen’s science project. Albuquerque Journal, May 2, 2020.
  10. Brooks JT and others. Universal masking to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission—The time is now. JAMA, July 14, 2020.
  11. Du Z. Effects of proactive social distancing on COVID-19 outbreaks in 58 cities, China. Emerging Infectious Diseases 26:9, 2020
  12. Chu DK and others. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 395:1973-1986, 2020.
  13. Tereszcuk T. Fact check: Hypercapnia does NOT occur from constant use of a mask as advised during The COVID-19 outbreak. Lead Stories, May 25, 2020.
  14. Howard J. Face masks against COVID-19: An evidence review. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 10, 2020.
  15. Park YJ. Contact tracing during coronavirus disease outbreak, South Korea, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases 26:10, 2020.
  16. Kuperschmidt K. Three big studies dim hopes that hydroxychloroquine can treat or prevent COVID-19. Science & Medicine, June 9, 2020.
  17. FDA cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems: Does not affect FDA-approved uses for malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. FDA news, updated July 1, 2020.
  18. Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know. Mayo Clinic website, June 6, 2020.
  19. Miller D. Fact check: Dr. Kelly Victory’s ‘COVID Facts’ video includes many claims that are NOT facts. Lead Stories, July 13, 2020.
  20. Dr. Kelly Victory: Another despicable physician spreading disinformation about COVID-19. Respectful Insolence, July 15, 2020.
  21. Stensland M. Victory charges dropped as part of plea deal. Steamboat Pilot & Today, June 15, 2012.
  22. COVID-19 Medical Misinformation Policy. YouTube, accessed July 25, 2020.