Trump’s New 'Coronavirus Adviser’ Was Almost Always Dead Wrong

Donald Trump, Dr. Scott Atlas

President Trump and Dr. Scott Atlas

Screenshot from Fox News/ MediaMatters

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump announced this week that Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, will serve as a new "adviser" to the president on COVID-19. Atlas, whose background is in diagnostic radiology, is not an expert in infectious disease but rather a pundit and frequent Fox guest who has been repeatedly wrong about the pandemic.

Atlas, who has appeared 20 times on Fox News since the end of April, predicted in March that there would only be 10,000 deaths from COVID in America, said in April that the pandemic "appears to be entering the containment phase," and claimed in May that "the curves have been flattened." More recently, he has taken to making unproven claims downplaying the risk of COVID-19 in considering whether to reopen schools for in-person learning.

But Fox News and other right-wing outlets have elevated his politically convenient though dubious commentary; and on August 12 he gave brief remarks during a White House press briefing after Trump asked him to come up to the podium.

Here is a noncomprehensive list of Atlas' false claims, incorrect predictions, and pro-Trump sycophancy that preceded his new role at the White House.

  • Atlas claimed in a March 16 tweet, "Virus infections typically have seasons. This is temporary."
  • In a March 26 op-ed in The Washington Times, Atlas wrote, "This virus could cause about 10,000 deaths in the United States overall."
  • In a March 26 "Hoover Virtual Policy Briefing," Atlas claimed, "All reasonable numbers point to the fact that our number of severe outcomes will be peaking around three weeks or so."
  • In an April 1 op-ed in The Hill, Atlas wrote that "Americans should not panic. The United States has the most advanced medical care in the world for situations like this."
  • As the national curve of daily deaths continued to rise, Atlas wrote in an April 13 op-ed in The Hill that "we now need to reenter normal life" and that "continuing full-population isolation and waiting for a vaccine would be doubling down and yielding to panic."
  • Atlas opened his April 22 op-ed in The Hillby declaring, "The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be entering the containment phase."
  • In an April 26 appearance on Fox News' The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Atlas told the host, "Young people under 18 have virtually no risk of serious illness or death, so it's logical to open most schools. It's logical to open most businesses."
  • Atlas claimed on the April 27 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight, "It's actually good news that the virus spreads widely and without high risk to the vast majority of people … because that means we have a better chance of developing population immunity." The Mayo Clinic describes "major problems" with the idea that herd immunity can be achieved through natural infection as it is unknown to what extent an individual is immune to further infection after exposure. Also, according to the Mayo clinic, even if it was possible for herd immunity to be achieved this way, it "could also lead to serious complications and millions of deaths, especially among older people and those who have chronic conditions."
  • On the May 11 edition of Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas referenced the social distancing measures and claimed that "the cure is bigger than the disease at this point." He also told the audience that "the curves have been flattened."
  • On the June 8 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas falsely claimed "there is really no risk to young people" when it comes to COVID-19.
  • On the June 22 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, host Martha MacCallum mentioned to Atlas former Food and Drug Adminstration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's claim that 25% of hospitalizations in Texas are among people aged 20 to 29. Atlas responded that he didn't believe the number, saying, "I question if those people who are positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized for something else are classified as COVID-19 hospitalizations. That's a big difference."
  • On the June 29 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight, Atlas falsely claimed young people "do not have a significant problem, they do not have the serious complications, they do not die" from COVID-19. (The data showed at the time of this appearance and continues to show that young people do in fact die or suffer serious complications from the virus.) He also said it's "fantastic news that we have a lot of cases," which common sense and real-time data show to be false.
  • On the July 6 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas repeated the falsehood that "it doesn't really matter how many cases, it only matters who gets the cases" because young people die at a lower rate than older people. But increased caseloads lead to an increased strain on the capacity of health systems and may spread the virus to people who are more vulnerable to serious complications from the disease, even if the vast majority of young people who make up the increased number of cases do not.
  • Atlas downplayed the potential risks that COVID-19 poses to people under 70 on the July 7 edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle, claiming, "The risk of this has been grossly overblown."
  • On the July 15 edition of America's Newsroom, Atlas falsely claimed, "It doesn't matter if children get the disease. ... The data shows that they do not significantly transmit to adults."
  • On the July 25 edition of Fox News' Watters World, Atlas uncritically shilled for the Trump's disastrous COVID-19 response, saying, "I think the president's briefings that were done this week were excellent, and I think it's obvious to everyone that there's a focus on the data, that they're closely monitoring the situation." He also falsely claimed that it's been "established" that " children are not significant spreaders," when in fact the science on this issue remains unsettled.

Correction (8/13/20):This post originally misidentified a July 15 appearance from Atlas as happening on The Story with Martha MacCallum. The appearance was on the July 15 edition of America's Newsroom.


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