Dr. Scott Atlas, President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus advisor, made the latest in a series of controversial public statements in a Nov. 16 Fox News interview, encouraging large Thanksgiving gatherings this year despite numerous public health officials advising against such holiday celebrations.
Atlas’ reasoning, according to Media Matters’ transcripted excerpt from the interview, stemmed from a “whole person, whole health” policy based on the concern that some might celebrate their “final Thanksgiving” in 2020.
Speaking about the “isolation” that people are experiencing as a result of lockdown measures to control the virus and the mental health impact that’s having on Americans, Atlas said, “This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told don’t see your family at Thanksgiving. For many people this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not. What are we doing here? I think we have to have a policy, which I have been advocating, which is a whole person, whole health policy. It’s not about just stopping cases of COVID. We have to talk about the damage of the policy itself.”
Those comments come on the heels of a controversial tweet he sent on Nov. 15 in response to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call for a three-week period of restrictions to combat a surging number of coronavirus cases in that state.
Atlas responded to a tweet featuring a graphic of what activities would be permitted and restricted during the state’s “pause.” He wrote, “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept.” He also added the hashtags #FreedomMatters and #StepUp.
According to ABCNews.com, “About three hours after the original tweet, Atlas attempted to walk back his comment as the criticism poured in, saying he wasn’t talking about violence but raised people peacefully protesting and voting.”
The article also noted why the “rise up” admonition might be particularly troubling in Whitmer’s case, noting that, in October, “authorities revealed an alleged plot to overthrow the state Capitol and kidnap Whitmer.” The people charged in the plot had protested against the Democrat’s stringent restrictions, echoing criticisms that Trump had made—including an all-caps tweet in April that simply said, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
In the follow-up tweet, Atlas wrote, “Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence. People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!”
Scott Atlas has no training in infectious diseases
The combination of statements has led to criticism of Atlas; ABCNews.com labeled him “a neuroradiologist with no training in infectious diseases who joined the White House coronavirus task force in August and has since railed against COVID-19 restrictions.”
New York magazine, on its Intelligencer website, raised additional concerns about the Nov. 16 interview. The article observed that Atlas “posited his belief that state-level lockdowns actually increased the current number COVID infections, despite clear evidence that proper restrictions help reduce the spread of a virus that has killed almost 250,000 Americans.”
The article, pointedly titled “Trump COVID Adviser Scott Atlas Is on a Hot Streak of Dumb Ideas,” also presented Atlas’ assertion that “Because we had states that were restricting businesses, restricting activities, we forced cases to be building up in this season when you cannot social distance.”
Atlas is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, but as both Intelligencer and CNN relayed, Stanford distanced itself from Atlas on Nov. 16 with a three-part tweet.
“Stanford’s position on managing the pandemic in our community is clear. We support using masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing. We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities,” wrote the school’s official Twitter account.
“Dr. Atlas has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic. Dr. Atlas’s statements reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.”
Atlas has also reportedly expressed support for a herd immunity strategy that would allow the coronavirus to run rampant across the country until enough people are infected and then grow immune from it. Dr. Anthony Fauci has strongly opposed that idea, saying, “You know how many deaths you’re gonna have before you get there? That’s an unacceptable pathway. We get to herd immunity from a vaccine, that’s how you get to herd immunity. Not by letting everybody get infected.”