Donald Trump’s medical confidante Dr. Scott Atlas listens to a Trump statement at the White House, August 10, 2020 (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
Donald Trump’s medical confidante Dr. Scott Atlas quits after four months in the White House.
Atlas is a neuroradiologist with no qualifications or experience in epidemiology, virology, or public health. Trump appointed him as an advisor in August after seeing Atlas’s appearances on Fox TV, supporting Trump’s rejection of containment measures.
The neuroradiologist, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, quickly became Trump’s confidante as he reassured Trump that the demand for full “reopening” of the US — and the assessment that the virus would “turn the corner” — were correct. The Government’s top Coronavirus experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, were sidelined and insulted by Trump.
But Atlas was increasingly challenged by the medical and scientific communities over his promotion of “herd immunity” through spread of the virus, rather than through a vaccine, as Coronavirus deaths surged and cases hit record levels.
The advisor turned more and more to Twitter to promote unsupported claims rejecting measures against the pandemic. In October, Twitter removed his message, “”Masks work? NO” followed by a series of misrepresentations about the science behind their effectiveness. Two weeks ago, Atlas called on people to “rise up” against steps to limit the virus, later having to clarify that he was not calling for “violence”.
The US death toll reached 268,045 on Monday, with 1,172 fatalities in 24 hours. Confirmed cases are 13,541,224, an increase of 157,904.
Hospitalizations have risen to 96,039, the 20th record in the past 21 days.
A Return to Experts
In his departure letter to Trump, Atlas insisted that he “worked hard” to “save lives and help Americans through the pandemic”, and that his views were “in agreement with many of the world’s top epidemologists and medical scientists”.
He said nothing about the work of the White Coronavirus Task Force, which was largely eclipsed by his relationship with Trump, or about experts such as Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. Nor he did mention the escalation of the virus across the US, with 47 states in “Uncontrollable Spread”, or about the warnings of a “surge upon a surge”.
In mid-November, Stanford University distanced itself from its employee, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic”. The statement emphasized the measures for “masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing,” and rebuffed Atlas’s “Rise Up” call: “We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities.”
Dr Celine Grounder, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force, summarized in a TV interview: “I’m relieved that in the future, people who are qualified, people who are infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists like me will be helping to lead this effort. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart attack and that was essentially what was happening.”