The new doctor in Trump's pandemic response briefings: Scott Atlas agrees with him on masks, opening schools
Atlas has no special expertise in infectious diseases or pandemics.
After months of tension and disagreement between President Donald Trump and the public health experts on his pandemic response task force, he's added a new one: Dr. Scott Atlas, a medical adviser whose views echo his own.
Trump first introduced Atlas to the American public at a White House briefing Monday, saying he has “many good ideas” and will take administration efforts to combat the pandemic to “a new level.”
“Scott is a very famous man, who is also highly respected,” Trump said. "He’s working with us and will be working with us on the coronavirus. And he has many great ideas."
Speaking at a White House event Wednesday highlighting Trump's push to reopen schools, his ideas sounded much like Trump's.
"We know that the risk of the disease is extremely low for children, even less than that of seasonal flu. We know that the harms of locking out the children from school are enormous. And we also know, as we all would agree, that educating America's children is right at the top of the list for our nation's priorities," Atlas said. "So, I thank the president and everyone here for acknowledging these truths, and to get kids back to school safely."
"We've been working with him very closely, all of the task force, all of the White House," Trump responded.
A senior fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution, Atlas is a neuroradiologist and not an expert on infectious diseases or pandemics.
But he is a frequent contributor to Fox News where he has called on schools to open, endorsed the return of college football, raised questions about mask wearing and spoken out against lockdowns and the “frenzy” of mass testing -- all stances Trump has taken.
“You know that there's no real good science on general population widespread in all circumstances wearing masks,” Atlas told Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Atlas also has pushed Trump’s non-scientific claims about children and coronavirus, telling Fox News earlier this month that children "have no risk for serious illness" and "they're not significant spreaders.”
“If there's no risk to children, no significant risk I should say, then what are you protecting them from? If kids get the infection in this school that's still okay,” Atlas said Thursday in a sit-down interview with the conservative outlet Sinclair Broadcast Group.
While the effects of the virus on children are inconclusive at this time, a contact tracing study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that young people between ages 10 and 19 are more likely to spread the coronavirus in households, where other family members may be more susceptible to severe symptoms.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in July found children carry as much or more of the infection in their noses than adults.
Politico has reported Atlas has joined daily meetings of a separate group leading the response that includes the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and other key communications advisers.
And his arrival at the White House comes after months of Trump often being at odds with task force experts who did not echo his views on the pandemic and precautions -- most notably Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert.
In July, the president called Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist” to which Fauci responded, “I consider myself more of a realist.”
Fauci has said schools should reopen only in areas that aren't "hot zones" and that extensive precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of both students and teachers.
"There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school," Fauci said during a video conference with physicians and medical students at New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
The last time Fauci joined Trump at a White House coronavirus task force briefing was April 22. Since then, he has had to resort to doing multiple television and online interviews in order to get his message out and to answer questions.
Fauci isn’t the only task force member to sometimes fall out of favor with Trump.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coronavirus response coordinator, has for the most part gotten good reviews from the president.
But Trump attacked her on Twitter earlier this month for undercutting his rosy characterization of the crisis. After critics suggested she was being too deferential to Trump, she called the pandemic “extremely widespread” in an interview.
“So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics," Trump tweeted. "In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”
She, unlike Atlas, now rarely appears with Trump at his White House pandemic response briefings.
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