In his time advising the Trump administration on the coronavirus, radiologist Scott Atlas, who does not have a background in public health, has gained the president’s ear with questionable pandemic advice, including claims that children “almost never transmit the disease” and that asymptomatic people should not be COVID-tested. On Sunday, after sharing on social media some of the false direction that has brought him close to the president since August, Twitter removed one of his tweets that cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks to stop the spread of the virus.
“Masks work? NO,” Atlas tweeted, followed by several pieces of misleading information about the ability of face coverings to halt the spread of COVID-19. (There is a public-health consensus that masks severely reduce the amount of respiratory droplets released, this virus’s primary method of transmission.) According to a statement from Twitter provided to CNN, the message was removed for violating the company’s policy for sharing “false or misleading content related to COVID-19 that could lead to harm.”
The deletion on Sunday — one of several actions against misinformation the platform has taken in the run-up to the election — further dampened the radiologist’s newfound reputation as an infectious-disease adviser. It was a standing already in doubt. Late last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield was reportedly overheard on a phone call in public describing Atlas’s guidance to Trump, saying, “Everything he says is false.”
Such bad advice is falling on a president who, in the immediate wake of his COVID hospitalization, has refused to wear a mask and insisted on holding rallies in states where cases are spiking. (Not that there are many regions where the advance signs of the third wave aren’t being felt: 11 states just set single-day records for new cases last week.) On Saturday, Trump held a campaign event in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he boasted to his many unmasked supporters that the pandemic in the United States is “rounding the corner.” The comment was made in a state where the daily COVID caseload was broken two days in a row last week and where a field hospital was set up at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds to handle patients as hospital-bed capacity spikes toward 90 percent.