The president’s top coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas had to log on to Twitter late on Sunday night to issue a correction to a previous post of his: He did not, under any circumstances, mean to encourage the people of Michigan to “rise up” in insurrection against Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her new COVID restrictions. A poorly chosen phrase from a federal official under any circumstances, it came a little over a month after the FBI stopped a militia plot to kidnap and try Whitmer for “treason.”
On Monday, Atlas stretched one bad idea into a two-day streak in an interview with Fox News. Speaking with news anchor Martha MacCallum, 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. “Because we had states that were restricting businesses, restricting activities,” he explained, “we forced cases to be building up in this season when you cannot social distance.” Next, Atlas suggested — in reference to the tragic effects of isolation on the nation’s elderly — that it’s acceptable to potentially place their lives at risk by holding large gatherings because “for many people, this is their final Thanksgiving.”
Atlas was introduced at the start of the interview as a White House adviser and “Stanford University’s Hoover Institution senior fellow,” but shortly before the segment aired the university distanced itself from Atlas. “Stanford’s position on managing the pandemic in our community is clear,” the statement read. “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.” It continued, “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.”
At this point, Atlas is well-known for his dubious coronavirus ideas, including the notions that masks don’t work and that asymptomatic people should not be tested. According to the Washington Post, the radiologist — without a background in public health — expanded his influence in the White House by promoting “policies that appeal to Trump’s desire to move past the pandemic and get the economy going.” His arguments for personal responsibility and against federal and state action echo Republicans’ governing nihilism.
He is not the only close presidential adviser whose approach to the pandemic doesn’t line up with reality. According to aides who spoke with the Washington Post, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — who hid his own COVID diagnosis after the election — has said “he believes one of the main ways the virus is spread is through waiters touching the cups of different people at restaurants.”
This post was updated to include Stanford University’s statement.