President Donald Trump's new coronavirus pandemic adviser, Scott Atlas, has been pushing a controversial "herd immunity" strategy which could have disastrous effects on the American population. According to a report by The Washington Post, Atlas has been advocating a plan to intentionally spread COVID-19 quickly throughout most of the population, excepting only vulnerable populations like nursing homes. Atlas' ideas have been widely condemned by other public health officials.
Five people familiar with discussions between Atlas and other White House officials confirmed his "herd immunity" plan in broad strokes. Atlas believes that exposing many people to the virus quickly will allow most people to build immunity to the virus, despite the recent findings on repeat infections around the world. Under Atlas' plan, nursing homes and other high-risk groups would stay under isolated conditions while the rest of the country was encouraged to go out and seek exposure to the virus.
Atlas was advocating for this approach even before he was invited to the White House coronavirus task force earlier this month. He is a neurodiologist from Stanford University's Hoover Institution, but is best-known as a public health commentator and policy adviser. He previously served as the health care adviser to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney during their respective presidential campaigns.
Atlas' advice has reportedly already begun to impact policy decisions in the Trump administration, particularly when it comes to coronavirus testing. His arguments in favor of "herd immunity" rely heavily on the fact that Sweden adopted a similar response plan. However, Sweden has been criticized by public health experts around the world as "reckless." At the time of this writing, Sweden has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world, and its economy is suffering as badly as anywhere else's.
As reports of Atlas' rhetoric have spread in recent days, he has denied various interview requests, and has declined to comment on his lack of background in infectious diseases and epidemiology. When asked to comment for the Post's story, he said: "There is no policy of the President or this administration of achieving herd immunity. There never has been any such policy recommended to the President or to anyone else from me."
Insiders say that Atlas has appealed to the president's desire to put the pandemic behind him and focus on the economy as a talking point for the 2020 presidential election. However, at least two highly-publicized cases now show that COVID-19 survivors have a short-lived immunity to the virus. Public health experts still say that social distancing is the most important step to reducing the spread of the pandemic.