New adviser giving Trump bad information on virus, top U.S. officials say
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney
September 28 2020
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two senior U.S. public health experts have raised concerns that White House adviser Scott Atlas is providing misleading or incorrect information on the coronavirus pandemic to President Donald Trump, according to media reports on Monday.
The top U.S. infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, told CNN on Monday he was concerned that information given by Atlas – a late addition to the White House coronavirus task force – was “really taken either out of context or actually incorrect.”
The comments from Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, came hours after a news report quoted Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sharing similar concerns.
“Everything he says is false,” Redfield was quoted as saying during a Friday telephone call while on a plane from Atlanta to Washington, NBC reported. Redfield later told NBC that he was speaking about Atlas.
Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases, has faced scrutiny for downplaying the importance of face masks and his reported views on “herd immunity,” an approach that holds that once enough individuals have been infected and become immune, others are less likely to be infected.
The White House insists it is not pursuing such a strategy, although Trump has mentioned it himself, and repeated on Monday his view that the United States was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.
Atlas’ views on handling the pandemic have been denounced by his peers at Stanford University’s medical school and other health experts.
Atlas on Monday defended his advice to the president. “Everything I have said is directly from the data and the science,” he said in a statement released by the White House.
In a statement, the CDC said comments about Atlas overheard by NBC were just one side of a “private discussion regarding a number of points he has made publicly about COVID-19.”
The agency said Redfield differed with Atlas on mask wearing, youth COVID-19 infections and herd immunity status, but agreed with him on many other issues.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said Trump’s advisers sometimes disagreed, and that the president made policy decisions based on all the information he received.
The White House had no immediate comment when asked if Redfield’s position was in jeopardy.
“When the president loses confidence in somebody, you will know it,” said one senior administration official.
‘NOWHERE NEAR THE END’
The United States, which has not had a coordinated federal-led response to the virus, has recorded more than 7.1 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 205,000 deaths, both the highest in the world. Health experts fear a second wave of infections as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.
Both Fauci and Redfield were conspicuously absent from a White House Rose Garden event on Monday where Trump hailed plans to ship 150 million rapid tests to U.S. states before asking Atlas to speak.
At the event, Atlas acknowledged that increased social mingling and testing were causing a rise in COVID-19 cases in parts of the country, but predicted changes when a vaccine was finalized and rolled out.
“Fear is not the issue here,” he said. “We really have a handle on what’s going on.”
In the phone call, Redfield also said the threat from the coronavirus pandemic was far from over, contradicting the more upbeat assessments by Trump and Atlas.
“We’re nowhere near the end,” Redfield said.
Trump earlier this month dismissed congressional testimony by Redfield about when a vaccine could be broadly rolled out, saying the CDC director was “confused.” He previously blasted Redfield for saying face coverings could be as effective as a vaccine.
“If every one of us did it, this pandemic would be over in eight to 12 weeks,” Redfield told NBC.