A regular on Fox News and a proponent of reopening schools, Dr. Scott Atlas has quickly risen as Trump’s favorite medical advisor on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Last week, Dr. Scott Atlas made his debut as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Dr. Atlas has no experience with infectious diseases, and his addition to the task force is raising concerns among public health experts and doctors around the nation.
For an academic neuroradiologist specializing in health care policy and pricing, Dr. Atlas’ star has quickly risen. He was already a frequent Fox News coronavirus commentator before being added to the national task force.
But it’s not his expertise that is setting the newest appointee to the White House Coronavirus Task Force ahead of the pack. Unlike Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who have both publicly diverged from President Trump’s attempts to downplay the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis, Atlas shines by repeating the administration’s talking points.
Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, downplayed the need for more widespread testing and contradicted the opinions of scientific experts about the virus on Fox News, insisting: “There are virtually zero risks to children of getting something serious or dying from this disease.”
While children develop severe cases of COVID-19 far less frequently than adults and the elderly, thousands of hospitalizations have been reported. There have also been deaths among children who have contracted the coronavirus. Additionally, children can carry the disease to those more likely to develop severe cases, despite not having symptoms themselves. And if parents or caretakers are infected for any length of time, or should they succumb to the virus, those children can be left without parents or guardians.
Atlas also warned school superintendents and sports conference officials not to be overly cautious in resuming athletic activities in schools this fall, minimizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that students wear face coverings or practice social distancing. Schools in Georgia, North Carolina, and Indiana that opened for in-person classes have already had to shut down because of positive cases and infections.
The sudden elevation of Dr. Atlas is causing strife inside of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Dr. Birx, the official response coordinator for the task force, recently proposed expanding access to at-home testing for COVID-19 to help combat its spread. Atlas opposed the measure. He also argued with Dr. Fauci—the nation’s leading infectious disease expert—against the evidence that masks help prevent the spread of the virus.
Last week, conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh recounted Dr. Atlas’ theory—which Atlas announced on Fox News in July—that T cells from non-coronavirus infections could potentially grant some level of protection against the coronavirus. “It’s probably not known to the public, but there is a lot of data that shows people have immunity, even people that didn’t get the infection,” Dr. Atlas said on Fox News in July.
Atlas appeared to be referring to some recent studies that have found certain T cells that seem to recognize the coronavirus. However, infectious disease experts caution that using this preliminary data to reopen the country without restrictions is dangerous.
Whether Scott’s theory is proven true or not, Trump is less than three months away from an election that could prove to be a referendum on his leadership during the pandemic, and he is elevating officials who present theories that align with his leadership.
“Scott is a very famous man who’s also very highly respected,” Trump commented as he announced Atlas’ appointment to the task force. “He has many great ideas and he thinks what we’ve done is really good.”
Public experts and doctors disagree. “He’s utterly unqualified to help lead a COVID response,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University public health law professor, told The Associated Press. “His medical degree isn’t even close to infectious diseases and public health and he has no experience in dealing with public health outbreaks.”