Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists
When asked for comment, HHS referred a reporter to Azar’s subsequent Twitter statement about the meeting: “We heard strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy of aggressively protecting the vulnerable while opening schools and the workplace.”
A senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing call Monday that the proposed strategy — which has been denounced by other infectious-disease experts and has been called “fringe” and “dangerous” by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins — supports what has been Trump’s policy for months.
“We’re not endorsing a plan. The plan is endorsing what the president’s policy has been for months. The president’s policy — protect the vulnerable, prevent hospital overcrowding, and open schools and businesses — and he’s been very clear on that,” the official said.
“Everybody knows that 200,000 people died. That’s extremely serious and tragic. But on the other hand, I don’t think society has to be paralyzed, and we know the harms of confining people to their homes,” the official added.
Trump has long chafed at the economic damage from shutdowns imposed to control the pandemic, and has repeatedly pushed states to reopen, at one point threatening to withhold federal funding from states that did not open schools. After he contracted the virus and developed symptoms of covid-19 serious enough to require hospitalization, Trump still urged the public, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.”
In pushing his agenda, Trump has steadily drifted away from the counsel of his own government’s top doctors, such as White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Into that void has stepped Atlas, who has relied on the maverick scientists to bolster his in-house arguments. At a recent White House news briefing, he cited them by name.