The Pandemic Worsens, Dr. Atlas Shrugs and Biden Acts

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Nov. 11, 2020.

The coronavirus did not stop for the election. It intensified. COVID-19 deaths in America now exceed 235,000 and are increasing at the rate of a 9/11 attack every three days. But help is on the horizon.

On November 9, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. named 13 experts to his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. He did not include Dr. Scott Atlas. That omission alone could save thousands of lives.

For months, Dr. Atlas — a radiologist with no experience or training in infectious diseases or public health — has been the most influential voice on Trump’s coronavirus task force. Three days before the election, he gave a 28-minute television interview to Russia’s propaganda network. Once again, he pushed Trump’s dangerous falsehoods that placed winning re-election ahead of public health.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is an international television and digital news network financed by the Russian government. It was a central player in Russia’s campaign to help Trump win the 2016 election. A registered foreign agent, RT America continues to promote Russian propaganda aimed at influencing US public opinion, policy and laws. Both Facebook and Twitter have labeled RT as controlled by the Russian state.

The RT interviewer’s first question to Dr. Atlas referred to the “Democrat-leaning mainstream media.”

Dr. Atlas and the COVID Hospital Crisis

Oct. 31: As RT interviews Dr. Atlas, COVID-19 hospitalizations are surging. Across the country, including Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, medical resources are stretched and strained. An emergency notification system warns Utah residents that hospitals were “nearly overwhelmed.”

Speaking from the White House, Dr. Atlas tells RT: “We have no real problem, although occasionally there’s a hospital that’s overcrowded…We haven’t had a problem like that.”

Nov. 2: Hospital leaders warn that Iowa had entered a COVID-19 “danger zone.”

Nov. 4: Minnesota issues a “red alert” based on the demand for ICU beds.

Dr. Atlas and Face Masks

Sept. 16: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield tells Congress, “We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

Oct. 31: In his RT interview, Dr. Atlas complains that Twitter deleted his tweet challenging the efficacy of face masks. “[The] Constitution is under threat,” he says, defending his tweet.

“If they can delete a senior adviser on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, then that’s obviously quite something,” the interviewer responds with delight.

Nov. 4: At a White House gathering that includes several hundred supporters, no social distancing and few face masks, Trump falsely declares that he won re-election. Among those present is Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, who routinely shuns face masks and isn’t wearing one.

Nov. 6: Meadows tests positive for COVID-19. Five other White House aides and a campaign adviser have also tested positive in the days before and after the election.

Nov. 9: After experiencing symptoms, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who also attended Trump November 4 gathering at the White House, tests positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Atlas and “Herd Immunity”

Oct. 31: In his RT interview, Dr. Atlas goes on to say, “The country is off the rails because there’s this hysteria that has been fueled by the faces of public health expertise here that have been not only wrong, but more interested, I believe, in their own public stature than anything else.”

He reiterates his view that the best way to deal with the pandemic aligns with the Great Barrington Declaration, which endorses so-called herd immunity: reopening society while trying to protect high-risk individuals. But even the RT interviewer interjects that the World Health Organization rejects the Great Barrington Declaration.

Dr. Atlas and Trump’s False Talking Points

Oct. 31: Dr. Atlas parrots Trump’s false claim that President Obama’s administration had left the country unprepared for a pandemic. He fails to note that Trump disbanded the pandemic response team. He doesn’t mention that Trump eliminated the position held by an American epidemiologist who was embedded in China’s disease control agency and whose job was to train “Chinese field epidemiologists…deployed to the epicenters of outbreaks to help track, investigate, and contain diseases.” And he ignores the fact that Trump disregarded the pandemic “Playbook” — that was its title — that the Obama administration had created for a COVID-19-type pandemic.

Dr. Atlas also repeats Trump’s absurd claim that America could have done worse, citing a March estimate that more than two million Americans could have died from COVID-19. But he doesn’t mention that the estimate was a warning to governments and individuals of what would happen if they did nothing to control the pandemic.

The RT interviewer asks Dr. Atlas why, for example, South Korea — an advanced democracy that confirmed its first COVID-19 diagnosis on the same day as the US — suffered only about 460 deaths from the coronavirus while the US had more than 230,000. He responds that it was “treacherous ground” to compare countries’ experiences with the coronavirus.

It is treacherous indeed — for Trump. The US accounts for 20 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases and deaths but has only four percent of the world’s population. In fact, among 150 nations, the US has the world’s eleventh highest death rate. According to the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the US suffered between 130,000 and 210,000 avoidable deaths.

Dr. Atlas and Dr. Fauci

Oct. 31: Later on the same day that RT publishes Dr. Atlas’ interview, the Washington Post publishes an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert whom Trump sidelined. Citing current infection trends, he warns, “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation.”

Dr. Fauci laments that Dr. Atlas is the only medical person with whom Trump meets personally on a regular basis. “I have real problems with that guy. He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Nov. 1: Dr. Atlas apologizes for doing the RT interview. Claiming not to know that RT America is a registered foreign agent of the Russian state, he tweets regret “for allowing himself to be taken advantage of.” But he shows no remorse for statements that epidemiologists and public health experts have condemned as dangerous.

Dr. Atlas and Irony

During his interview, Dr. Atlas railed against those who refuse to accept facts that contradict what they want to believe. He lambasted people unable to admit that they’re wrong. But when asked about Dr. Fauci’s comment that Dr. Atlas is an outlier on epidemiological and public health issues relating to the pandemic, he said, “I’m proud to be an outlier, especially when the ‘in-liers’ are completely wrong…I’m not afraid to be a contrarian because I know I’m right.”

Willing to let others die on his lonely hill of intellectual certainty, Dr. Atlas boasted of his “25 years of medical science experience at the highest levels of academic medicine” — a reference to his position as a professor and neuroradiologist at the Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012 and current affiliation as a senior fellow at its Hoover Institution. Stanford might want to do something about that.

A large group of Stanford Medical School’s doctors and researchers has already tried. They published an open letter criticizing Dr. Atlas for spreading what they characterize as “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” relating to the coronavirus.

After the inauguration, President Biden can add government employees, including undoubtedly Dr. Fauci, to what will then become the new White House Coronavirus Task Force. But until then, the nation is at the mercy of Trump and Dr. Atlas. By that time, America could be suffering COVID-19 deaths equivalent to a 9-11 attack every single day.

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