Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Anthony Fauci says Trump's new coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas is giving the president 'bad information' and calls him an 'outlier' on the White House task force

 Donald Trump's latest member of the White House coronavirus task force could be providing the president with misleading or incorrect information, Dr Anthony Fauci has warned.

Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday he was concerned about the information provided to the president by Scott Atlas, an increasingly high-profile figure among Trump's inner circle.

While Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx were not seen at Trump's COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Atlas played a prominent role.

'Most are working together,' Fauci said. 'I think, you know who the outlier is.' 

Atlas, 65, is a radiologist, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution of Stanford University and a frequent Fox News commentator. 

He was appointed to the White House task force on August 12, and has been dubbed the 'anti-Fauci' for frequently disagreeing with the veteran public health expert. 

Atlas previously served as chief of neuroradiology - radiology of the brain and nervous system - at the Stanford University Medical Center. 

He has also advised Republican presidential candidates on health care, including Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer.   

He is not known for his expertise on viruses or infectious diseases. 

Dr Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN on Monday and spoke of his concerns about Scott Atlas

Dr Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN on Monday and spoke of his concerns about Scott Atlas

Atlas, pictured during a COVID-19 event on Monday, joined the task force on August 12

Atlas, pictured during a COVID-19 event on Monday, joined the task force on August 12

'Well yeah, I'm concerned that sometimes things are said that are really taken either out of context or actually incorrect,' said Fauci, when asked by CNN if he was worried Atlas was sharing misleading information.

He denied that there was any conflict between them. 

'If I have an issue with someone, I'll try and sit down with them and let them know why I differ with them and see if we can come to some sort of resolution,' Fauci said.

'So, I mean my differences with Dr Atlas, I'm always willing to sit down and talk with him and see if we could resolve those differences.'

The host, Brian Stelter, asked if there could be legitimate disagreements about issues such as masks.

'When it comes to a mask, I can just tell you how I feel. And what I feel is not very much different from what has been expressed by Dr Deborah Birx and Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC. 

'Masks are critically important in preventing the transmission and acquisition of SARS coronavirus 2. The data are strong. There's no doubt about that.'

Atlas is known for his skepticism about the value of masks, and his push to get the U.S. back to business as quickly as possible.

Redfield, in a conversation with a colleague that took place on Friday, was overheard suggesting Atlas is providing Trump with misleading data about the efficacy of masks, young people's susceptibility to the coronavirus and herd immunity.

In a statement to CNN, a CDC spokesman did not deny the conversation took place.   

Dr Scott Atlas joined the White House coronavirus task force on August 12

Dr Scott Atlas joined the White House coronavirus task force on August 12 

At the end of August five sources told The Washington Post that Atlas, who has no training in epidemiology or virology, was promoting the idea of 'herd immunity'. 

The idea, which Sweden has adopted, is that there should be no widespread lockdown, but vulnerable populations should be strongly protected.

A herd immunity strategy allows many people to get sick, and therefore generate immunity to the disease - eventually preventing the spread to the shielded vulnerable population. 

Sweden has been extremely hard-hit by the virus, with among the highest death rates per population.

Atlas has denied the Post's report.

'There is no policy of the President or this administration of achieving herd immunity,' he said in a statement. 'There never has been any such policy recommended to the President or to anyone else from me.' 

But an administration official told CNN that the policies Atlas has suggested are in the vein of a herd immunity strategy.

'Everything he says and does points toward herd immunity', the source said. 

Health experts inside and outside the White House are expressing alarm at the idea that the United States could adopt Sweden's herd immunity approach.

'The administration faces some pretty serious hurdles in making this argument,' said Paul Romer, a professor at New York University who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018. 

He told The Washington Post: 'One is a lot of people will die, even if you can protect people in nursing homes. Once it's out in the community, we've seen over and over again, it ends up spreading everywhere.' 

Infectious disease experts have said it is wrong to believe that young people cannot be affected, pointing out that more than 25,000 people younger than 65 have died of the virus in the United States. 

Furthermore, young people can easily spread the virus to vulnerable people of all ages, in a country already struggling with high rates of heart and lung disease and obesity. 

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, told CNN that up to two million Americans could die if the US adopted a herd immunity strategy.

'If we're waiting until 60% to 80% of people have it, we're talking about 200 million-plus Americans getting this -- and at a fatality rate of 1%, let's say, that's 2 million Americans who will die', she said.

'Those are preventable deaths of our loved ones' 

Trump has not explicitly mentioned herd immunity, but appears open to the idea.

'We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and to school, and we want to see so many of those great states be open,' he said during his speech to the Republican National Convention on Thursday night. 

'We want them to be open. They have to be open. They have to get back to work.' 

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