Scott Atlas, a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force who frequently promoted misinformation, announced his resignation from his position in the White House on Monday evening.
Atlas’s resignation, which he shared on Twitter, comes as his term as a “special government employee” is set to expire. Hired in August, Atlas was only slated to serve 130 days on the task force, although it’s possible his term could have been renewed had Trump won the presidential election last month.
The resignation was celebrated by President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board member Dr. Celine Gounder, who is an epidemiologist. Speaking on CNBC on Monday evening, Gounder questioned whether Atlas was ever qualified to be on the task force in the first place.
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“I am relieved that in the future that people who are qualified, people who are infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists like me, will be helping to lead this effort, people who are experts in this,” Gounder said. “You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart attack, and that was essentially what was happening.”
Atlas, who has a neuroradiology background and is not an expert in public health, claimed in his resignation letter that he “always relied on the latest science and evidence” on COVID-19 when it came to his advice to the president.
However, Atlas frequently disseminated statements that went against the widely accepted consensus on COVID-19. For example, he was a staunch opponent of the idea of using social distancing as a means to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
In early November, after Michigan had implemented new social distancing rules amid a rise in COVID-19 case numbers, Atlas tweeted out an outlandish opinion that many saw as a call for citizens in the state to engage in violence against the order.
“The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept,” Atlas said.
Also in November, in spite of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that stated families should stay socially distant for the Thanksgiving holiday when possible, Atlas said they should instead get together, arguing that “for many people, this is their final Thanksgiving.” Critics noted that Atlas’s advice would undoubtedly lead to a wider spread of the virus at a time when coronavirus case counts were reaching their highest numbers ever in the United States.
“Well, if it’s not their last Thanksgiving it will be now, ‘Doctor’ Atlas,” opined The American Prospect contributor David Atkins.
Chief among Atlas’s controversies was his ardent belief that the pandemic could be stopped by pushing for “herd immunity” of the virus. This dangerous and misinformed theory holds that if enough Americans contract coronavirus, the disease will stop running rampant, because enough people will have antibodies in their systems to halt its spread.
The idea is highly controversial — indeed, many liken it to eugenics and even a genocide targeting disabled, elderly and marginalized people. “The ‘herd’ will survive,” under such conditions, “but for that to happen, other ‘weaker’ members of society need to be sacrificed,” wrote anthropologists and professors Vito Laterza and Louis Philippe Romer, writing for Al Jazeera earlier this year.
In order to reach effective “herd immunity” for most vaccinations, close to 90 percent of the population often has to have antibodies in their system. But as CDC director Robert Redfield noted in October, we’re nowhere near that level.
“More than 90 percent of the population remains susceptible” to COVID-19, Redfield said at that time.
The implication is that many more Americans (perhaps numbering in the millions) would have to perish in order to reach herd immunity before a vaccine is available.
As of Tuesday morning, 13.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus, with more than 268,000 having died from it so far.