After months of butting heads with his medical experts, including the government’s top infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Trump introduced a new adviser to the administration during his coronavirus briefing on Monday, Dr. Scott Atlas, whose views on Covid-19 and school reopenings more closely match the president’s.
A senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, Atlas is not an infectious disease expert — he’s board-certified in diagnostic radiology, which means he specializes in reading and interpreting imaging like X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, and he served as a professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012.
Described on his Stanford bio as someone who “investigates the impact of government and the private sector” on healthcare and medical technology and innovation, Atlas joined Mitt Romney’s campaign for president in 2012 as a healthcare adviser. He had criticized Romney in 2007 over his healthcare plan while supporting New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s bid for president.
Atlas has recently appeared as a guest on Trump’s preferred news channel, Fox, calling on school districts and colleges to open their doors for in-person instruction and railing against the “frenzy” around mass testing.
During a Fox News appearance on Aug. 3 discussing college reopenings, Atlas echoed an argument often made by Trump that children “have no risk for serious illness” and “they’re not significant spreaders,” adding, “There should never be and there is no goal to stop college students from getting an infection they have no problem with.”
While researchers are still studying the effects of the virus on children, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics in July found children carry as much or more of the infection in their noses and throats compared to adults, while a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact tracing study found young people between ages 10 and 19 years old are more likely to spread the coronavirus in households, where other family members may be more susceptible to severe symptoms.
Calling the debate around reopening schools “irrational,” Atlas said during his Fox appearance that “people are kidding themselves” if they believe testing is valuable and seemed to criticize the practice of quarantining asymptomatic carriers of the virus if they test positive, though studies have shown the virus can be spread by people not exhibiting symptoms.
Also like Trump, Atlas has endorsed the return of college football programs, despite the risk of serious illness and long-term effects, like, for example, Indiana University freshman football player Brad Feeney, whose mother shared that her otherwise healthy son ended up in the ER and is experiencing heart issues due to Covid-19 that he contracted after arriving early at the school for team workouts.
“Scott is a very famous man who’s also very highly respected,” Trump said on Monday. “He’s working with us and will be working with us on the coronavirus. And he has many great ideas.”
Trump brought in Atlas as an adviser after repeatedly contradicting the advice of the lead healthcare experts on the administration’s coronavirus task force. The administration has particularly taken aim at Fauci. In late July, Trump called him “a little bit of an alarmist,” to which Fauci said, “I consider myself more of a realist.” Fauci for his part has endorsed in-person instruction if a county has the virus under control and puts in place safety measures. Dr. Deborah Birx, also part of the coronavirus task force, has been largely spared Trump’s ire, but on August 3, Trump tweeted criticism of her characterization of the pandemic being “extraordinarily widespread” in the U.S. “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!”
Data shows younger people experience less severe symptoms of the coronavirus compared to older individuals and those with comorbidities. However, much is still unknown about the long-term effects of the virus. A July survey by the CDC found that 35% of those interviewed had not returned to normal health two-to-three weeks after testing positive for Covid-19, and among people aged 18-to-34 with no chronic medical conditions, one in five hadn’t returned to their usual state of health. Additionally, while the risk is lower, young people can still die to Covid-19. On Tuesday, Florida reported that more residents ages 25-to-44 died in July than in the previous four months, and there were more fatalities for people under 65 than those over 90.