Dr. Scott Atlas had a front-row seat at the White House as a member of President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force. Now, he’s telling all in a new book, “A Plague Upon Our House: My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop COVID from Destroying America.”
“The American people need to know the level of incompetence, the lack of rigor, the lack of critical thinking. I was stunned at what I saw,” Atlas says of his time at the White House. “We had bureaucrats in charge of the policy and that policy was the restrictions and lockdowns. And it failed.”
Atlas blames three public health officials: Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about his time on Trump’s task force, President Joe Biden’s failures, and a new academy he founded at Hillsdale College. Watch the full interview, listen to the podcast, or read an abridged transcript below.
Rob Bluey: You are a former member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, you are a world-renowned radiologist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And now you have this new project with Hillsdale College. Tell us about this new academy.
Scott Atlas: Yes, we are just unveiling this. It’s a very, very important, big issue, one of many that was revealed, really exposed by the pandemic and the management of the pandemic. Everyone is aware that science itself has become contaminated with politics, has become really distorted from the actual scientific process itself. That the process of science and finding scientific truths depends upon the free exchange of ideas. And that obviously fundamental pathway to seeking and discovering very important things that all free societies depend upon, meaning facts and scientific solutions to health care and other crises that are undoubtedly coming our way.
The process of discovering the answer is in allowing the information to be debated and using evidence and stating it freely without fear of intimidation and censure. Yet in this pandemic, particularly we have seen quite the opposite on our university campuses, in scientific journals. And so I, Martin Kulldorff, the very renowned epidemiologist and infectious disease scientist, and Jay Bhattacharya, who is also a scientist and a renowned scholar, are getting together and with the help and under the umbrella of Hillsdale College addressing these issues and exploring their solutions.
Bluey: From your vantage point, both in the White House, when you were working on the task force, and since then, what is the most egregious example of where individual and academic freedom came under attack?
Atlas: I experienced it myself. I’m certainly not the only one, but what happened to me is sort of representative of this. I was asked to help the president in the biggest health care crisis in the century, and as a health policy at expert and a medical scientist for 25 years, and more in the decade of full-time work in health policy, I said, yes.
It had nothing to do with politics. There’s something wrong with you, frankly, if you would not say yes. I knew the president was despised by a significant proportion of the country, but that didn’t matter. And when I got there, I was under attack by people who were really attacking me out of a political animus toward the president.
That is, unfortunately, what happened at my own campus at Stanford University, where a group of professors became enraged and misrepresented what I said, resorted to smears distributed on emails, coercive emails to younger people on the faculty to write op-eds about me.
I was stunned at it. I was naive to the politics. And the reason I know it was political, first of all, they never criticized or refuted any of the data. They just simply accused me in a distorted way of saying these preposterous things. But mainly it’s because the controlled experiment was done, as we say, in science. There were three medical scientists at Stanford, all of whom said the exact same thing, Jay Bhattacharya, John Ioannidis, and myself, we said the same thing about risk, the same thing about a very low risk to children.
The same thing about school should open, the same thing about natural immunity conferred after recovery from infection, the same thing about masks, the same thing about lockdowns being super detrimental. Yet only one of us received this sort of nationally known censure, and that was sort of a despicable thing. …
If you’re not teaching critical thinking, which means the only way to get critical thinking, to learn it, is to hear views that you agree or disagree with and to look at the evidence. That’s what critical thinkers do. That’s what scientists do. So it was sort of stunning to see these people but they’re not important really in the grand scheme of things, but these kinds of things were just a part of the equation.
YouTube pulled down videos of Gov. [Ron] DeSantis of Florida running a panel with me, Drs. Kulldorff, Bhattacharya, and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford on pandemic management. … YouTube pulled it down. Of course, Gov. DeSantis is fearless and called me up the next day and said, we’re going to do panel on how YouTube pulled it down.
This is what we need. We need leaders who understand the facts, who understand the importance of a free society and the exchange of free ideas. And thank God we have some leaders still who understand the importance of these things.
Bluey: We still do. And one of those leaders is Hillsdale College. It’s an institution that has long valued the pursuing the truth and defending our liberty. What is the genesis of hosting this academy within Hillsdale?
Atlas: Hillsdale College stands out really as a real voice for truth and learning the classic knowledge that universities are supposed to teach in order to develop young people into critical thinkers. Most people would admit, the universities generally in the United States have sort of become dominated by a single voice.
Hillsdale, and I want to say specifically, President Larry Arnn, has been a real leader in freedom of thought, in learning and speaking the truth without regard to the consequences and looking at the data.
A couple of us were involved, for example, in helping Hillsdale put forward the case that they should have their graduation outdoors. That graduation was being held under the rules of the state of Michigan, outdoors with all the mitigation, but it was still under threat of being eliminated or stopped. And we helped them put forward the evidence for that.
Bluey: I have to ask you about Dr. Fauci, who is now serving as President Biden’s chief medical adviser. He recently attacked his critics by saying, “I represent science.” You served alongside him on the task force when you were in the White House. What do you make of his statement in this pushback that he seems so offended by?
Atlas: I think every person with a with any common sense brain really has the same reaction to that kind of delusional statement that I would. So I won’t go into my personal reaction to that statement, but I will say it this way: That’s not what I saw when I was in the White House.
What I saw when I was in the task force meetings were three doctors on the task force that controlled the medical policy really, which were Dr. Fauci, who was the most visible face of the policy to the country, but not in charge of the task force. Dr. Deborah Birx, who was in charge of the medical side of the task force, she was the official task force coordinator with capital letters. She had the role and personally wrote all of the written advice to every state. All of the governors received her advice as the federal policy guidelines. She flew to dozens of states, she personally visited all of these state’s public health officials doling out the federal guidance. And Dr. Redfield was the third doctor who was the head of the CDC.
These people were bureaucrats, Drs. Fauci and Birx were 40-year bureaucrats. I was very different. I had more than a decade of health policy expertise practicing. I had 25-plus years of medical science clinical research and education. I brought in dozens of papers, the world’s literature.
When I was asked a question in the task force meeting by Vice President Pence, for instance, I gave the data. … I was going through all the data, all the world’s publications, all the scientific papers. I was critiquing the papers. If I look at a scientific paper and the methods, the study was done incorrectly or poorly, the conclusion is not valid.
This is what medical science people do, who are competent. I went through 12, 15, 20 papers when I was asked a question. And when I did that, for instance, on an occasion where I was us about the risk to children, I went through all the data very quickly, but I had all the papers in my briefcase. I was met with silence from Drs. Birx and Fauci with an accusation, I’m an outlier. And at the end of that discussion, which there was none refuting anything I said, there was no critique of anything I said by data, there was no scientific criticism.
I was the only one who ever brought a publication to the table in the task force of the meetings I went to. The only comment at the end of that, when Dr. Redfield was asked about his comment was, well, let’s say the jury’s still out.
I wrote this in my book, “A Plague Upon Our House,” because the American people need to know the level of incompetence, the lack of rigor, the lack of critical thinking. I was stunned at what I saw. We had bureaucrats in charge of the policy and that policy was the restrictions in lockdown. And it failed. It failed by the data to stop the spread of the infection. It failed to protect the elderly and stop them from dying. And it destroyed millions and millions of families, including the children who were sacrificed, and I’m talking about particularly low income families.
This was an egregious immoral application of public health, because when you’re a public health leader, you are not supposed to say I’m going to stop this one infection at all costs, without regard for all of public health. These people, the advice that was done was directed solely at stopping these cases.
It failed, by the way. But it also inflicted massive harm because you have to remember, we shut down a lot of medical care. It wasn’t just cosmetic surgery or something like that, that was shut down. We had 650,000 people with cancer on chemotherapy. Half of them skipped their chemo just during the spring of 2020 out of fear. We had 85% of living organ transplants did not get done compared to the previous year. We had two thirds of cancer screenings did not get done. These people still have cancer.
They’re going to come back with widespread, what’s called metastatic disease. A lot of them are going to die. We had massive increases in drug abuse, in spousal abuse, in child abuse. 300,000 cases of child abuse were not detected during the spring of 2020, because, why, schools were closed and schools are the number one agency where child abuse occurs. So this was a massive harm and the harm, again, all the losses, we are almost on the verge of destroying a younger generation, by the way, we have a massive rise in anxiety disorder, in depressive disorder.
One out of four college students in 2020 in the United States thought of killing himself. We had tripling of medical visits to doctors by teenagers for self-harm in the United States compared to the previous year. What does that mean? That means these are kids putting out cigarettes on their skin, slashing their wrists out of the isolation. It’s the lockdowns that did this. It’s the isolation. It’s not the virus. The isolation was caused by the grossly wrong public health advice. And this is going to take decades to solve.
Bluey: Thank you for outlining all of that. It’s all documented, as you say, in your book, “A Plague Upon Our House.” You’ve taken us behind the scenes what it was like. Two questions: Are the public health bureaucrats, these three doctors you cite, so powerful that President Trump felt he had no choice but to go along with their guidance? And at what point did you see him change his mind and decide enough was enough?
Atlas: OK, well sort of a complicated question. The president was speaking about ending the lockdowns and opening schools from even in spring, before I came. The problem was that he was saying that he understood the commonsense reason why lockdowns are so destructive.
By the way, it’s a false dichotomy to say that if you’re up for opening up, you’re choosing money over lives because that’s a lie. There’s decades of literature in the economics literature that shows, proves that severe economic downturns cost lives. So it’s lives versus lives. And, in fact, equations, the data shows that the lockdowns destroy, cost more life years than the virus. That’s factually true, it’s all over literature. You won’t hear people say that. So when you speak about this, the president understood and said it multiple times before I got there and while I was there, that we need to open up and increase the protection of the elderly, the targeted protection, so-called focus protection, meaning increase the protection.
We did get some of that done while I was there: increased testing in the nursing homes, where all the cases came in from the staff. They were only testing once a week when I got there. That had to be done three times a week, five times a week to the staff. We got increased tests to senior centers, for instance, where non-residential seniors live. These are high-risk people. We sent more tests to historically black colleges and universities while I was there. And I was involved in getting that done. These are higher-risk faculty members because they have more risk factors.
The president understood this. The problem was while he was saying that, the task force said something very different. The task force was on its own.
The task force was speaking forward to the states and to the American people, 24/7, really, a totally different message. So they were on their own and they were, they, the task force doctors, Dr. Birx, and to the people Dr. Fauci were espousing a completely different policy not consistent with what the president wanted, but more importantly, the wrong policy. So while he may have realized that they were allowed to continue, and that continued throughout the year, and in fact it still continues today under the current administration.
Bluey: How would you assess President Biden’s performance?
Atlas: The performance is a failure. It’s a failure because there’s been a continuation of the disconnect from fact.
First of all, there’s this bizarre notion that restricting people indoors, or whatever restrictions you want to impose on people, or these mask mandates, or anything else stop the spread of the infection or eliminate the virus. That’s proven wrong. We knew it a year ago, a year and a half ago. It’s still going on. There’s a sort of a bizarre lack of understanding of fact.
There’s a denial effect about vaccine mandates. And why do I say that? Because there is very good protection in people who have recovered from the infection. That’s natural immunity. It would’ve been a shock, if that didn’t occur. This goes back centuries, by the way. But it certainly goes back decades in the medical literature. And it’s proven with this specific virus that people who recover from the infection have very good protection.
In fact, the protection in people who’ve recovered from the infection is superior to the protection of vaccinated people who have never had the infection. That’s factually true, that’s inarguable. And to not acknowledge that is almost inexplicable, really, except if you’re just motivated to just be blind to the truth, or to hide the truth from the American people.
Now, other countries, by the way, don’t hide the truth. In Europe, most countries recognize people who have recovered from COVID as having protected status, meaning immune protection. They can enter, for instance, in most countries, restaurants just like people who’ve been vaccinated.
We are the only country that I know that is just completely behaving like a flat earth country. The American public health leaders are the flat-earthers of today. They’re denying basic immunology that you learn in medical school in first year. It’s not esoteric. It’s actually well proven and documented even with this virus, the people who have had the infection have very good protection once they recover, that’s factually true.
Bluey: Which states do you see as leaders that others should emulate? And who’s doing it poorly?
Atlas: The only thing that mattered was what the states did in this medical policy. There is no federal imposition, at least under the Trump administration of sort of behavioral mandates to the states. That’s the terrain of governors. The governors listened to the policy from Drs. Birx and Fauci. That’s what they did. That’s what was implemented, and it failed.
Now, the states, we have an internal control here. We have the control state of Florida. In fact, Gov. DeSantis was the only governor who asked me to visit while I was in Washington. I visited one state. Dr. Birx visited dozens of states. There’s only one state that we have that’s a very good example of the opposite policy from lockdowns, because Florida’s a large state, it’s the diverse state in terms of demographics.
It’s a diverse state, urban, rural, and it has a very sort of a similar profile to California, which is a good comparison state because California was one of the stringiest states for COVID restrictions. Florida was wide open. All the schools were open in September 2020 in Florida.
The governor of Florida, Gov. DeSantis, first of all, he knew the data. I spoke to him many times. He understood the data. He would say to me, What do you think about this? Am I right? And, of course, he always was right. He knew the world’s data, but also Gov. DeSantis’ state did not do these business shutdowns. He opened up and he did very interesting things of targeted protection. He set up COVID-only nursing homes. He didn’t do what some of the other governors did when they ordered COVID-positive patients back into nursing homes, which killed people.
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Gov. DeSantis restricted people who are positive for the virus and set up separate facilities, for just one example. He also did not listen to the CDC guidance of who should get the vaccines first. Instead, he said, we’re giving it to the older high-risk people first, period. And that, of course, is commonsense and that undoubtedly saved lives.
The difference between California and Florida—besides the fact that California did severe stringent restrictions, and Florida did the opposite—California is one of the youngest states in the country. Florida is one of the oldest states. Why is that relevant? Because this disease kills the old people. Florida by definition is far higher at risk. And what we see from the data right now is that the burden of proof by the way to save lives is on the states who did the lockdowns.
It’s not on Florida because Florida didn’t do those lockdowns that caused a tremendous amount of collateral damage that destroyed families, that destroyed jobs of low-income people, and that sacrificed the children and created a massive burden from the isolation on the children. Florida did not do that. California did. They inflicted a tremendous amount of harm on its citizens.
What we see is there’s no significant difference between the deaths from COVID in Florida and age adjusted death in Florida vs. California. So Florida avoided the collateral damage, and they did just as well, if not better. …
Florida outperformed the country in whole, in age-adjusted mortality from COVID. Florida did better than most of the states that did the significant lockdowns. And California destroyed people, and they did not outperform Florida. So who did better? It’s obvious.
Bluey: Thank you for presenting us with that contrast. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about omicron, this new variant. Two weeks ago, we had the media hype this as this next wave. We’ve seen President Biden come out and warn Americans and push vaccines again. As you look at the data and you do your analysis, what do you want our listeners to know about this?
Atlas: I’ll start off by saying anyone who changes policy due to this new variant is irrational and not a critical thinker and automatically to me disqualifies himself from leadership of the public. And the reason I say that is very simple.
Everybody who’s competent in medical science, who has any understanding whatsoever of viruses in a pandemic—and this is medical school level, this is not some kind of esoteric knowledge—knows that as a pandemic evolves, the viruses mutate. Mutation means a variant basically. And the variants that generally arise as these viruses mutate, because the mutant viruses survive, the protection prevents the normal virus from being perpetually infecting people. The mutants survive, and the mutants are generally less lethal. This is what is expected. We expect this.
In fact, we see this happen as a pandemic evolves to an endemic situation, which is basically a low level sort of a series of oscillations of infections without a lot of deaths. And that’s what we’re seeing. And so, OK, we’re concerned because we don’t know everything yet, but this virus is doing as what is expected, which is, we see infections. It’s contagious, but there’s not a lot of people dying, if any. There’s very few hospitalizations. In most countries, none.
This is absolutely not something unexpected, let alone a cause for panic. And you know what we’re going to see here likely is this evolution of new mutants, new variants, odd infinitum. That does not mean we need a new vaccine to cover the new variant. If the new variant does not make people seriously ill, why in the world would you inject yourself with a drug for it? I don’t understand. This is commonsense.
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Again, you don’t have to be a scientist to draw this conclusion. But the problem here that we have is there’s a tremendous loss of trust in America’s public health leadership and science leadership, and university academic scientists. And that’s deserved. The loss of trust is deserved because of their erratic statements, their politicized statements, their complete denial of obvious science.
People need to know who to trust. So there’s two types of things to do. One is people need to look at who’s saying consistent things. People need to speak to each other, but also listen to the people who are speaking about the facts, who are presenting the case, very logically, calmly, and with the data. Now there’s a new burden. The way I look at it, there’s a burden on us as thinking people.
We cannot just trust people with credentials, blindly trust people. We need to be involved. We need to be thinking adults. This has been going on for almost two years. Fear is not an excuse anymore, in my mind. We need to make decisions for ourselves and what’s best for our own families, because if we don’t, we’re going to be injecting ourselves with experimental drugs forever.
People say to me, when will the CDC say the pandemic’s over? When will Dr. Fauci say we’re finished? And my answer is never. There’s never going to be a time. And so we know this, this is predictable. And so it was predictable there was a new variant. It was predictable there would be panic. It was predictable there’d be irrational statements about the need for new boosters, new vaccines, new restrictions. That’s not what the facts show. You have to become a thinking adult.
It’s more difficult than to just defer and rely on other people, but I think we’re at that stage now. And so this is one of the reasons we’re doing the Academy for Science and Freedom with Hillsdale. We need to get the dialogue back. We need to get people to be able to hear the free exchange of ideas. You cannot make a decision without hearing the information. And if the information is suppressed, if people are self-censoring scientists, because they’re afraid to step forward, that’s very harmful to the American people.
Bluey: Thank you so much for spending time with The Daily Signal today.
Atlas: Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.