Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was overheard saying that Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and special advisor to President Donald Trump, has been spreading misinformation to the president about the pandemic.
Redfield was overhead on a phone call during a commercial flight from Atlanta to Washington on Sunday by NBC News. The CDC director criticized the advice Atlas has given to the president on the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that “everything he says is false” and warning that the information the president is receiving on face masks, herd immunity and infection in children is misleading, according to NBC News.
The CDC downplayed the report, saying that it is only “one side of a private phone conversation” and that Redfield was having a “private discussion regarding a number of points he has made publicly about Covid-19.” A federal health official, however, confirmed the accuracy of the reporting to CNN.
Atlas defended his record in a Fox News interview today, claiming that his views and the advice he gives the president is based on “current science,” adding that there is a “false belief” that one “has to be a public health official to understand the facts about the pandemic.”
Redfield is not the only task force member to sound the alarm on the views embraced by Atlas. Since Atlas joined the task force in August, there has been frequent disagreement among the coronavirus advisors. Atlas’ stances on the pandemic have concerned the task force’s senior public health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in a Monday interview with CNN that he is concerned that some of the information President Trump is receiving on the pandemic is either out of context or plainly incorrect.
Although Fauci and Atlas differ on their scientific views, Fauci said that he is “always willing to sit down and talk with him and see if we could resolve those differences.”
When asked whether there could be differences of opinions on issues such as masks, Fauci said that “masks are critically important in preventing the transmission and acquisition of SARS coronavirus 2. The data are strong. There’s no doubt about that.”
Dr. Seema Yasmin, a clinical assistant professor of medicine and former CDC disease detective, cautioned efforts by some politicians to listen to advice from “outlier” scientists that is not supported by the best evidence available.
Yasmin told CNN earlier today, in response to a question about disagreements among Redfield and Atlas, that it “becomes really, really dangerous when leaders are not listening to the consensus in science and medicine and they’re finding those outspoken outlier scientists who are giving them bad advice.”
Atlas has been widely criticized by public health experts, including over 100 Stanford medical faculty members, for holding controversial views on COVID-19 infection and mitigation strategies, suggesting that children do not transmit the virus, questioning the efficacy of face masks to lessen transmission and advocating for a “herd immunity” strategy through rampant community spread.
Stanford affiliates condemned the “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science recently fostered by Dr. Scott Atlas” in their Sept. 9 letter to the Stanford University School of Medicine faculty. An attorney for Atlas threatened to file a defamation lawsuit against the signatories if they did not withdraw their claims.
Experts say that while children are at a lower risk of infection and illness, they can still transmit the virus to more vulnerable populations, and that the herd immunity strategy Atlas has proposed could result in millions of deaths in the United States.
In testimony before Congress this month, Redfield said that mask-wearing could in fact be more effective than any potential vaccine, adding that consistent masking for six to 12 weeks could end the pandemic.
The University and Atlas did not immediately respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
Contact Cameron Ehsan at cehsan ‘at’ stanford.edu.