As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.
Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
Atlas’s ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president’s personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account “false and laughable.”
Discord on the coronavirus task force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest. As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx’s analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony S. Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials. [Continue reading…]