The rise of White House COVID-19 adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, a lockdown skeptic who increasingly has Trump’s ear and is worrying experts like Fauci

© MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Dr. Scott Atlas (right) speaks at White House press conference



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: Dr. Scott Atlas (right) speaks at White House press conference on September 23, 2020, as President Donald Trump (left) looks on. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty


© MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty
Dr. Scott Atlas (right) speaks at White House press conference on September 23, 2020, as President Donald Trump (left) looks on. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

  • President Donald Trump brought Dr. Scott Atlas, a vocal anti-lockdown critic, onto his coronavirus task force in August.
  • Atlas is a healthcare-policy expert who works at the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. He is not an infectious-disease expert.
  • Yet the White House has increasingly brought him out to speak at recent coronavirus briefings instead of experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci or Dr. Deborah Birx.
  • He appears to be worrying top US health experts: CDC Director Robert Redfield was overheard saying “everything” Atlas says “is false,” and Fauci called him an “outlier” in his coronavirus views.
  • In response to Redfield and Fauci’s comments, Atlas told Business Insider: “Career government public health officials do not have a monopoly on knowledge.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dr. Scott Atlas has only been on the White House’s coronavirus task force for a month, but appears to already have President Donald Trump’s ear and is worrying top experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Atlas was brought onto Trump’s coronavirus task force in August, after appearing on Fox News for several months, where he often echoed the president’s views — including an opposition to lockdowns.

He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.

Unlike the other experts on the task force, Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, Atlas does not have a specialty in either infectious diseases or public health. Instead, he focuses on healthcare policy and has a background in neuroradiology, which is the reading of X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

Nonetheless, Atlas has become a favorite of the president, appearing often at the White House’s coronavirus briefings. Birx and Fauci have not spoken in those briefings as much in recent weeks.

Fauci, Redfield wave red flags

On Friday, an NBC News reporter overheard CDC Director Robert Redfield referring to Atlas in a phone conversation, saying “everything he says is false.” Redfield confirmed to the reporter after the flight that he was indeed talking about Atlas.



Robert R. Redfield wearing a suit and tie: CDC Director Robert Redfield seen testifying before the Senate on September 23, 2020. Redfield was overheard on a flight recently saying that "everything" Atlas says "is false." ALEX EDELMAN/POOL/AFP via Getty


© ALEX EDELMAN/POOL/AFP via Getty
CDC Director Robert Redfield seen testifying before the Senate on September 23, 2020. Redfield was overheard on a flight recently saying that “everything” Atlas says “is false.” ALEX EDELMAN/POOL/AFP via Getty

And in a Monday interview with CNN, Fauci described Atlas as an “outlier” when it came to his opinions on the virus.

“You know my differences with Dr. Atlas, I’m always willing to sit down and talk with him and see if we could resolve those differences,” Fauci said.

Business Insider reached out to Atlas for comment on Redfield and Fauci’s remarks and he gave us the following statement:

“All of my policy recommendations to the President are directly backed by the current science, and they are in line with what many of the world’s top medical scientists advise, including Martin Kulldorff and Katherine Yih of Harvard Medical School; Jay Bhattacharya and John Ioannidis of Stanford University Medical Center; and Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan of Oxford University. Career government public health officials do not have a monopoly on knowledge,” Atlas said. 

Pro-lockdown, pro-reopening

Since the beginning of the US coronavirus outbreak, Atlas has spoken out against imposing lockdown measures, saying it impedes herd immunity and is costing the lives of people too afraid to seek emergency medical treatment for other issues.

“In the absence of immunization, society needs circulation of the virus, assuming high-risk people can be isolated,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Hill in April. “It is very possible that whole-population isolation prevented natural herd immunity from developing.”

The Washington Post reported last month that Atlas had been pushing for the US to embrace herd immunity, though he has since denied it.

Experts including Fauci have spoken out against herd immunity, a scenario where enough people in a population become immune to a virus to stop it from spreading, warning that it would cost even more lives.



Anthony S. Fauci wearing a suit and tie: Dr. Anthony Fauci testifying before the Senate on September 23, 2020. Fauci recently called Dr. Scott Atlas an "outlier" in his beliefs on the coronavirus. GRAEME JENNINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty


© GRAEME JENNINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifying before the Senate on September 23, 2020. Fauci recently called Dr. Scott Atlas an “outlier” in his beliefs on the coronavirus. GRAEME JENNINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty

‘He has many great ideas … now we’ll take it to a new level’

Since May, Atlas has also appeared on Fox News regularly to speak on the US coronavirus crisis, and shared opinions often at odds with many public-health experts’ warnings.

For one, Atlas has said that he thinks schools should reopen and that the college football season should be able to start without any issues — ideas that lined up with the president’s own views.

When he hired Atlas in August, Trump called him a “very famous man who’s also very highly respected,” according to a pool report.

“He has many great ideas,” Trump said. “He thinks what we’ve done is really good, and now we’ll take it to a new level.”

In an interview with Fox News after his hiring, Atlas said about his new appointment: “Any way I can help, I will do so.”



a man wearing a suit and tie: Atlas has become a regular presence at White House coronavirus briefings. Here he's seen addressing the media on September 28, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty


© Tasos Katopodis/Getty
Atlas has become a regular presence at White House coronavirus briefings. Here he’s seen addressing the media on September 28, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty

Atlas has pushed for college football and schools to reopen

During the summer Atlas also called for college sports to restart and for schools to reopen in the fall.

He claimed that athletes were “physical specimens” who would have “virtually zero risk” of getting the coronavirus, and blamed virus fears on “really sensationalistic media reporting.”

While young and otherwise healthy people have a lower risk of contracting a severe version of COVID-19, several athletes have tested positive for COVID-19. Athletic people have also contracted severe coronavirus symptoms.

The Big Ten conference has voted to restart its football season on October 24, and the NCAA plans to restart basketball season on November 25.

Atlas had also pushed for schools to reopen for in-person classes in the fall, claiming that the “risk of the disease is extremely low for children, even less than that of seasonal flu” and that the “harms of locking out the children from school are enormous.”

Many schools across the country have reopened for in-person classes, while others have chosen to remain online.

According to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, the cumulative rate of coronavirus infections among kids has risen from 2.2% in April to 10% by mid-September. The report’s authors warned that the findings should underscore the importance of implementing strategies to keep children safe.



text, whiteboard: Teachers who oppose schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic protest in Tampa, Florida, on August 6, 2020. Octavio Jones/Getty Images


© Octavio Jones/Getty Images
Teachers who oppose schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic protest in Tampa, Florida, on August 6, 2020. Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Forbes has pointed out that Atlas is not an infectious-disease expert, like Fauci, but focuses on healthcare policy instead.

Prior to joining the Hoover Institute at Stanford, Atlas was the chief of neuroradiology at the school’s medical center from 1998 to 2012, according to his profile on Stanford’s website. Neuroradiologists analyze X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

Atlas has also previously advised on the presidential campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, according to Forbes.

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