Science

How hiring the wrong medical “expert” derailed the US pandemic response

in great shape , White House adviser Scott Atlas used his position to advocate for allowing the SARS-CoV-2 virus to spread and try to stop testing for it, which would advance that goal.

While one congressional committee seems to be making all the headlines lately, other investigations into the Trump administration continue in the background. One of them is trying to determine how America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic went so wrong that the country had over a million deaths and had the worst per capita death rate in the world. In its own words, the committee’s goal is “to ensure that the American people receive a full account of what went wrong and to ensure that our country is better prepared for a future public health crisis.” What corrective steps are necessary.”

In its latest report released Tuesday, the committee details the White House career of Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious disease experience. Atlas’ recruitment by the White House was expected to be so controversial that they were initially instructed to hide their staff IDs from actual government public health experts. Yet he quickly became a driving force for the adoption of policies that would achieve herd immunity by allowing most of the American population to become infected—even though other officials denied this was the policy.

How did this man get here?

Atlas’s lack of relevant expertise raises the question of why it was hired in the first place. The new report noted that he did not shy away from voicing his opinion about the response to the pandemic, making several TV appearances to complain about policies advocated by genuine public health experts. He also reached out directly to a senior government official, calling the US response “a massive exaggeration”, which he estimated would cause “about 10,000 deaths.”

This eventually got him along with several White House officials, including Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. After that meeting, Kushner appointed Atlas as pandemic advisor, but he knew the recruitment would not go down well with the government’s public health experts. As a result, Atlas was told to continue working remotely from California, not to introduce himself on conference calls, and to hide his White House ID card when he met with Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx. Atlas exited stealth mode upon switching to work in the White House.

Once there, Atlas began participating in the activities of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which aimed to formally coordinate the government’s pandemic activities. But Atlas also sat in less formal meetings with mostly political figures within the Trump administration, such as Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks. These meetings were referred to as “China virus huddles” and provided the atlas with a way to influence policy that avoided disagreements with public health experts. Birx suspected that this allowed what Atlas called a “parallel data stream” for the president, which did not reflect official government pandemic data.

According to evidence and documents obtained by the committee, Atlas used it to promote the idea of ​​reaching herd immunity before the availability of vaccines – a route that would infect most of the US population at a time when its There was very little on the way. effective treatment. The approach received some support from political figures in the Trump administration, but was strongly opposed by public health experts. The net result was a set of conflicting public statements and some rapid reversals of official government policy.

don’t follow the herd

The idea behind herd immunity promoted by the atlas is to allow most individuals to go about their normal lives, while taking steps to avoid infection with vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the immunocompromised. Almost all public health experts reject the idea, recognizing both the risks of COVID-19 becoming otherwise healthy, and the near-impossibility of preventing at-risk populations from being exposed.

To adapt its views on these objections, Atlas took a two-track approach: bringing in other herd immunity advocates to influence political figures and sidestepping public health experts on policy decisions.

Herd immunity advocates made their arguments public through a document called the Great Barrington Declaration, named after the city that hosts the liberal think tank where it was drafted. The atlas invited signers of several documents to brief White House figures, including Joseph Ladapo, who played a key role in limiting public health efforts in Florida.

Birx, believed to be in charge of the coronavirus response, dismissed these figures as “a fringe group without experience of the pandemic, public health, or common sense on the ground”. Birx’s daily coronavirus report to members of the White House staff denied. He also issued a public statement indicating that the herd immunity approach was formal policy, stating, “The targeted protection of vulnerable and early schools and society’s policy is consistent with the policy of the President and the advice I have given.” ” And two White House officials gave the press an anonymous background briefing that indicated the Trump administration had embraced herd immunity as a policy.

Faced with it, at one point, Birx sent an email to Robert Redfield and Anthony Fauci, then directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying “I just can’t.”

Despite the apparent success of Team Swarm, when questioned directly, Atlas denied that he had ever suggested the idea. Alex Azar, who also served as Secretary of Health and Human Services, also Appeared to boost herd immunity publicly but refused to be questioned. (The committee suggests that this contradiction “raises serious questions about the veracity of Azar’s representation of Secretary to Congress.”)

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