The report claims to chronicle what it says is a "dangerous and discredited herd immunity via mass infection strategy" that the report claims was "deeper and more wide-reaching" than previously known.
And the report lays the blame for much of this strategy on Atlas, a neuroradiologist who previously worked at Stanford University before being hired by the Trump administration as a special advisor on the pandemic in July 2020. The report accuses Atlas of claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic would be "no worse than the flu" and of using his influence to attempt to shape federal healthcare policy toward the pandemic.
Lightning rod for controversy
Atlas became a lightning rod for controversy shortly after arriving at the Trump administration in the summer of 2020. Critics accused him of lacking experience or training in infectious diseases or epidemiology, and they accused him of espousing a "herd immunity" approach to managing the pandemic, in which immunity in the population would be built through natural infection with the virus among healthy individuals.
While Atlas denied specifically supporting the idea of herd immunity, he was a vocal opponent of lockdowns and other restrictive measures designed to contain the spread of COVID-19. He also committed several missteps and made a number of controversial statements, such as an interview with Russian media outlet RT, and a statement that Michigan residents "rise up" against lockdown rules.
Atlas eventually stepped down from this role in the Trump administration in October 2020, but controversy did not stop with his departure. In November 2020, the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis issued a critique of his performance and announced that it had begun an investigation into his role in managing the pandemic.
That investigation culminated in the report issued this week, entitled "The Atlas dogma: The Trump administration's embrace of a dangerous and discredited herd immunity via mass infection strategy." The report was the culmination of a two-year investigation and interviews with numerous public health and Trump administration officials, according to the report.
Interference was 'rampant'
The report said that the Trump administration's "political interference was rampant" and degraded the U.S. government's response to the public health crisis caused by the pandemic. The administration followed a "mass infection strategy" that was largely dictated by Atlas, the report claimed.
"The embrace of this strategy enabled Trump administration officials to convince themselves that they were right to do nothing to limit the spread of the virus in the second half of 2020 and likely resulted in many deaths that would have been prevented by an effective national mitigation strategy," the report stated.
The report claims that Atlas was given "extensive access to the highest levels of government" and began "attempting to influence" the U.S. government's pandemic strategy shortly after arriving at the White House. He accused the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of a "massive overreaction" to COVID-19, and predicted the virus would cause about 10,000 deaths in the U.S., the report claims.
Atlas also allegedly provided input into a speech by Trump to emphasize protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection for high-risk people but otherwise lifting mitigation measures like lockdowns. While the speech was never delivered, the report claims his involvement in its drafting demonstrates his influence in the administration.
The report further claims that Atlas recruited proponents of the herd immunity strategy to come to Washington, DC, and meet with senior Trump administration officials. Some of them met with both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, the report claims.
Atlas was also successful in weakening the Trump administration's strategy on testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and he spearheaded changes to testing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as the termination of a requirement that close contacts of people with COVID-19 get tested. Atlas "became enraged" when the original CDC testing guidance was reinstated and a 14-day isolation period was added, the report claims. Atlas also allegedly resisted rules recommending the wearing of masks to prevent COVID-19 infection.
Ultimately, the report quoted an estimate by former Trump administration official Dr. Deborah Birx that the lives of more than 130,000 Americans would have been saved after the pandemic's first wave if the Trump administration had implemented "proven mitigation measures."
And much of the blame for the administration's failures falls on Atlas, according to the report. The embrace of herd immunity laid the groundwork for "a wide swath of the public" to reject other tools to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccines.
"The Trump administration's flagrant disregard for proven mitigation measures in those months resulted in a federal response that differed little from the implementation of a deliberate herd immunity strategy," the report concluded. "Administration officials used the 'Atlas Dogma' to justify their downplaying of the virus before the November presidential election and their continued deprioritization of the crisis as they worked to overturn the election results."
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