‘Everything’ White House Task Force Adviser Who Sided With Trump Over Masks Says ‘Is False,” CDC Director Tells Colleague

Members of the White House’s coronavirus task force don’t always see eye to eye, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), isn’t keen on comments the newest addition has been making.

Redfield, who has been a member of the task force since its inception, told a colleague during a September 25 phone call that “everything” Dr. Scott Atlas says “is false.” Atlas was added to the task force in August, and Redfield warned a colleague during the phone conversation, which was overheard by NBC News, that he was misleading President Donald Trump with data about mask efficacy, herd immunity benefits and who is at risk.

Atlas contradicted Redfield’s sworn testimony last Wednesday that the data shows more than 90 percent of the U.S. population is still susceptible to the new coronavirus. Atlas said during a briefing that same day that Redfield “misstated something” and added that the CDC’s state-by-state data “is old.” Atlas also said immunity to the infection is not “solely determined by the percentage of people who have antibodies” but also by cross-immunity from other infections.

“So the answer is no, it is not 90 percent of people that are susceptible to the infection,” Atlas said, adding that people are “supposed to believe the science and I’m telling you the science.”

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Redfield and Atlas also broke on the usage of masks. The CDC director told a Senate panel on September 16 that wearing a mask was one of the “most powerful tools” American have right now.

robert redfield scott atlas cdc trump coronavirus
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield testifies at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal response to the coronavirus on September 23.
Alex Edelman/ POOL/AFP/Getty

Redfield told senators on September 23 that it’s important to use masks if a vaccine is only 50 percent effective, because it’ll give immunity to only half the population.

In response, Trump, who called Redfield about his comment that masks could be more effective than a vaccine, said that a mask “perhaps helps” and that Redfield had “made a mistake,” a stance that Atlas supported.

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“There’s no sound science that shows that you should have all populations wear masks in all circumstances…and that is very much in concert with what is posted on the World Health Organization website and that’s very much in concert with the president’s own policy,” Atlas told CNN on September 18.

Newsweek reached out to Atlas, the CDC and the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, for comments but did not receive responses in time for publication.

Trump, who is regularly tested for the coronavirus, started wearing a mask only in the summer and faced criticism for not embracing facial coverings earlier, in order to lead by example. He pushed back on mask wearing, often citing the earliest months of the outbreak when experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of

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Trump repeats numerous false claims in campaign-style press briefing from White House

President Donald Trump used a Labor Day press briefing at the White House to give a campaign-style address, attacking his political opponents, touting the alleged success the US has had against the coronavirus and repeating many false and misleading claims along the way.



a man wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on the North Portico of the White House, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Washington.


© Patrick Semansky/AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on the North Portico of the White House, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Washington.

In all, CNN counted at least 11 outright falsehoods and a few more that were misleading or lacked context.

We’re updating as we go, but here’s a look at so far at the President’s claims and the facts behind them.

Shutdown

Echoing comments he made in August, Trump claimed “Biden’s plan for the China virus is to shut down the entire US economy.”

Facts First: Biden has not announced any such plan for combating the coronavirus pandemic but has said he would be prepared to call for a shut down if scientists recommended doing so. It’s also worth noting that presidents cannot single-handedly “shut down” the country.

You can read more about Biden’s comments on his plan for addressing the pandemic if elected here.

Monuments

Trump again claimed that he instituted a law that would send people to prison for 10 years if they tore down a monument or statue.

Facts First: The President’s executive order doesn’t create new laws or possible prison sentences, it simply directed the attorney general to enforce already-existing laws.

Trump issued an executive order on June 26 to, among other things, direct the attorney general to “prioritize” investigating and prosecuting certain cases of vandalism — especially of monuments and memorials of US veterans — in accordance with “applicable law.”

One of the laws cited in the order is the “destruction of government property,” which carries a potential “fine of up to $250,000, ten years imprisonment, or both” if the purposeful damage to government property exceeds $100. The law has been around since 1964.

Trump also cited the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, passed in 2003, which carries a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years for those convicted of vandalizing or destroying monuments, plaques, statues or other property “commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States.”

These laws have been on the books for years. Trump has not recently authorized the Department of Justice to pursue these cases but has ordered the attorney general to prioritize them.

Pillows and tank busters

In referencing US aid to Ukraine, Trump compared his record to President Obama’s.

“They used to send pillows and we send tank busters,” Trump said.

Facts First: While the Obama administration was criticized for its refusal to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine, it did provide more than $100 million in security assistance, as well as a significant amount of defense and military equipment.

Read more here.

NATO spending

Trump said twice that NATO member countries were increasing their spending to $400 billion a year.

Facts First: NATO

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Trump’s new coronavirus adviser uses made-up statistics and false claims to praise White House pandemic response

WASHINGTON — In a contentious interview on the BBC’s “Newshour,” the president’s new coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, said the United States had actually handled the coronavirus pandemic better than Europe, citing a discredited statistic of unknown origin.

In recent days, Atlas has eclipsed Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx as Trump’s most visible, and presumably trusted, coronavirus adviser. In that role he used his appearance on the BBC to defend aspects of the president’s widely criticized response to COVID-19.

Atlas is affiliated with the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. An expert in brain imaging, he has no experience with pandemic response but appears to have parlayed his frequent appearances on Fox News into a White House appointment.

Confronted by the BBC interviewer regarding his lack of expertise, Atlas lashed out. “You know, I have to laugh at that,” he said, adding that it was “sort of silly” to think a virologist or immunologist was needed to deal with the pandemic.

Before joining the Trump administration, Atlas made statements that called into question his understanding of the virus. He backed the push by several Republican governors to reopen their states’ economies in early May, while most public health officials, including Fauci, were urging caution. Many states in the Sun Belt did reopen, only to see significant spikes in both infections and deaths.

Later, Atlas tried to blame those spikes on antiracism protests and on immigrants from Mexico. The view of most public health experts is that when governors took the approach Atlas advocated, newly reopened restaurants, bars and other venues quickly became sites of viral transmission.

Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump's recently appointed coronavirus adviser. (Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump’s recently appointed coronavirus adviser. (Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Atlas has supported the controversial strategy of allowing the virus to spread naturally until enough of the population — around 60 or 70 percent, by varying estimates — has been exposed to achieve what’s called “herd immunity,” at which point the epidemic should end on its own. That was Sweden’s goal in resisting the kinds of lockdowns most other nations instituted. That strategy failed. 

Despite having explicitly and repeatedly advocated for the herd immunity approach, Atlas denied being a herd immunity proponent to the BBC, echoing a similar denial he made on CNN earlier this week. “I have never, literally never, advised the president of the United States to pursue a strategy of herd immunity, of opening the doors and letting people get infected,” he said.

While the contents of his advice to the president are not known, his record on herd immunity is unambiguous. Writing in the Hill in April, Atlas said that “infected people without severe illness are the immediately available vehicle for establishing widespread immunity.” That was around the time that Trump and many Republican governors were first growing weary of lockdowns, though those had gone into effect only weeks before. 

Atlas was a proponent of that view. “The data is in — stop the panic and end the total isolation,” his Hill op-ed

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