“Dr. Scott Atlas is arming Trump with misleading data” about COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a colleague Friday, according to a Monday report by NBC News political reporter Monica Alba.
Within hours, numerous outlets ideologically allied with NBC amplified the coverage. Here are some screenshots of the Google News results for the story just a short while later, but is Redfield’s assertion correct? The Federalist spoke to numerous epidemiologists to find out.
“Everything he says is false,” NBC News quoted Redfield as saying of Atlas’s coronavirus recommendations. That’s just not true, top epidemiologists told The Federalist.
“Dr. Redfield is a prominent and respected scientist, so I respect his opinion, but I don’t know what he’s thinking,” said Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist and medical professor at Stanford University, in response to the NBC story. Bhattacharya has advised public officials including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on COVID-19 response. “I think the evidence is more strongly with Dr. Atlas,” he continued.
In an interview, Atlas said the constant media characterization of President Trump’s coronavirus response as detached from scientific expertise is “completely false.” He said the president’s policies are informed by infectious disease experts from the world’s top medical and research institutions, including Bhattacharya and John Ioannidis of Stanford University Medical Center, Martin Kulldorff and Katherine Yih of Harvard Medical School, and Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan of Oxford University.
“The extreme comments that have been reported are an attempt to delegitimize me and undermine the president of the United States,” Atlas said, not a dispassionate, science-based position. “There can be different opinions about scientific evidence, but to say I’m citing false information is a lie,” he said later.
Scientific and public understanding of the disease has “changed dramatically” in the past nine months, Bhattacharya noted in an interview. Now we know COVID-19’s dangers are far lower than previously believed, such that if 1,000 people are infected with the virus, between 997 and 998 will survive, he said.
Atlas is known for pushing back on coronavirus panic with scientific evidence, including in his view that quarantines should target the vulnerable and infected rather than the healthy, the historic norm. He has been personally and professionally targeted as a result. Just two weeks ago, YouTube banned a video of Atlas talking about coronavirus, claiming it violated their terms of service.
“Dr. Atlas is not alone in his views,” Kulldorff told The Federalist in an email Monday. Numerous epidemiologists recommended the traditional quarantine over societal lockdowns for COVID “since March/April,” he said. “I find it curious that most journalists are uninterested in hearing from these experts.”
Bhattacharya and Kulldorff reviewed Atlas’s summary of the scientific evidence about COVID-19 and said it is accurate and scientifically defensible. That summary included these points:
1. Children and young adults are at an extremely low risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19.
2. Lockdowns are extremely harmful.
3. Children do not frequently spread this virus to adults.
4. Immunity to this virus is not just because of detected antibodies [i.e., the percent of people who are immune is larger than the percent of people testing positive for antibodies].
5. The safest, strongest strategy for our nation is to diligently protect the vulnerable and open society to end the lockdown.
“The president knows that expert opinion can vary and he knows there is no monopoly of expertise among public health officials — in fact, it’s the opposite,” Atlas said Monday. Atlas sees his job as to help Trump “save lives and … get past this pandemic.”
Atlas was an early and prominent public voice telling Americans COVID-19 should not keep children from school because the virus is a low risk to children and children transmit it less to adults.
“We are the only country not opening schools. This is absurd,” he said on Fox News in July. “Look at the science… Anyone who thinks schools should be closed is not talking about the children. It has nothing to do with the children’s risk. There’s no rational reason or science to say that children transmit the disease significantly.”
Just last week, Redfield told reporters, “We know the highest-risk group right now is 18 to 25.” Yet data collected by the Centers for Disease Control, which Redfield runs, shows that 0.2 percent of COVID-19 deaths have been among people younger than age 25. Other CDC-collected data shows that Americans ages 65-74 are 90 times more likely to die with COVID-19 than are those ages 18-29.
CDC Director Redfield swings and misses in this hit piece on COVID-19 task force member, Dr. Scott Atlas. Like too many others inside the US public health bureaucracy, he appears to have a weak grasp of the facts. Here's one example…https://t.co/aAhBbZYP8d pic.twitter.com/gylbB3Fd83
— Todd Lowdon (@tlowdon) September 28, 2020
This summer, Redfield and White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx encouraged schools to go online, especially where 5 percent or more of the local population tested positive for coronavirus.
“While anyone can get infected, children have lower mortality risk from COVID19 than from the annual influenza. This is true even with open schools,” Kulldorff said. “Sweden was the only major western country keeping schools open during the height of the pandemic. Out of 1.8 million children ages 1-15 attending day-care and school, there were zero deaths from COVID19 and only a few ICU hospitalizations. Young adults have higher mortality risk than children, but it is still low.”
“I just did some research and found that more children have died from the flu this year than from COVID-19,” Bhattacharya said. “I’m baffled that some people find that controversial.”
Besides resentment at Atlas’s credible public disagreement with lockdown policies pushed by health agencies, attempts to silence him may stem from a power struggle within those agencies as their coronavirus response — lockdowns, masks, and general panic — becomes increasingly invalidated by accruing research and experience from locales that employed different approaches, such as Florida, South Dakota, and Sweden.
A Monday, Washington Post article spotlighted politicking at the CDC under Redfield’s leadership. The article reads like several bureaucrats ran to the Post to amplify various people’s career aspirations at the agency as it flounders, backstabbing Redfield and Atlas while praising deputy CDC director Anne Schuchat.
The article also may reveal what prompted Redfield’s phone call torching Atlas: “On Wednesday, Atlas stood at the White House press room podium and contradicted Redfield’s sworn testimony that about 90 percent of Americans remain vulnerable to the coronavirus. Pressed by reporters about whom Americans should believe — the CDC director or him — Atlas replied: ‘You’re supposed to believe the science and I’m telling you the science.'”
“Atlas’s public attack on Redfield was ‘absolutely unconscionable,'” an “administration official” anonymously told The Post in response to this incident. The article even suggested Trump might replace Redfield with Atlas, which hints at what might be really going on here: bureaucrats concerned more for their careers than public safety and scientific integrity.
It’s well-known within the field that public health is not only about “following the science.” It’s about managing the citizenry into what public health officials think are beneficial outcomes. The Post article even lets that cat out of the bag, quoting an anonymous CDC epidemiologist as saying, “Every big public health response has two components: the public health emergency and the political emergency. It’s something epidemiologists begrudgingly accept.'”
Neither factor seems to have been managed well during this disease outbreak. We’re just on the early side of that becoming apparent, and as they watch that wave roll in, the people who made these bad decisions are doubling down, because if they admit they were wrong, it means they are to blame for the several hundred thousand cancer patients who missed life-saving treatments, the significant uptick in suicides, children’s forever lost life income from school shutdowns, the 85 percent drop in organ donations to desperately ill people — and much, much more.
All those checks we rushed to sign on credit are coming due. It will take years. And it won’t be pretty.
“There’s no question that [the CDC’s] credibility and effectiveness have been damaged by a combination of external threats, leadership that has been perceived to be ineffective and mistakes they have made internally,” the Post article quotes of Ross McKinney Jr., chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. The agency notably failed its initial rollout of Wuhan virus tests in January. That led “to critical delays in states’ ability to know where the virus was circulating,” the Post article says.
That’s not the only thing the CDC has failed at during this pandemic. A lot more of these cats are going to be streaking out of the bag in the months and years ahead as scientists, citizens, and officials reckon with the negative effects of lockdowns that public officials ignored.
“The lockdowns have been disastrous,” Bhattacharya said. “The UN, for instance, finds there will be an additional 130 million starving people worldwide” due to economies shut down. “The collapse of the world economy comes at the cost of health.” He also pointed to the shutdowns halting programs to address diseases such as tuberculosis, which is now increasing, likely as a result.
There have been “gross failures by the faces of public health who are on media all the time,” Atlas said. “They have not reported accurately” on coronavirus information as it became available.
Another effect we are only beginning to see unfold is how the lockdown response will further undermine science’s credibility and method of discovering information through open inquiry, Kulldorf and Bhattacharya pointed out.
“It was…surreal when a few epidemiologists led the media and vocal scientists in other fields to quickly determined that a suppression strategy was the correct approach, with a combination of lockdowns, testing and contact tracing, and then forcefully argue that we should ‘follow the science,'” Kulldorf wrote. “As the suppression/lockdown approach did not work as people were led to expect, why should the public trust the scientific consensus on other matters? When some scientific ideas were promoted while other views were silenced or derided, why should the public believe that there is an open and honest debate on other scientific issues?
“Science is about openly challenging and discussing different ideas, and it is critically important that we start doing that regarding this pandemic,” he continued. “No real scientist would disagree, and any confident scientists would welcome a debate with colleagues holding different views.”
The bracketed phrase about antibodies versus immunity has been made more precise since publication.