The Post reported that during a meeting in the Oval Office, Atlas stood behind the resolute desk after Trump left the room. The scientist, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution curator, denied the account.
On Sunday, Twitter removed the tweet in which Atlas said, “Do the masks work? NO. The company said the post violated its Covid-19 disinformation policy which prohibits “sharing of false or deceptive content that could cause harm.”
In a flood of messages, Atlas falsely claimed that several US states and other countries have embraced widespread use of masks without evidence of a positive effect. He also wrongly said that there was “a lot of harm” to the practice.
Twitter’s decision to block Atlas’s public comments is the latest controversy to strike since he joined the White House as a pandemic adviser in August.
A neuroradiologist, Atlas has no background in virology or epidemiology, but it appears he has become the main scientific influence on the president, eclipsing respected experts such as Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist.
Atlas’ views on how to fight the virus have raised alarm bells in scientific circles. He has repeatedly questioned masks and social distancing, and suggested that people could acquire natural self-defenses against the disease even without a vaccine through “herd immunity.”
Shortly after his appointment to the White House, 78 of his former colleagues at Stanford Medical School wrote a open letter in which they lamented that many of Atlas’ opinions “go against established science”. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was recently heard of Atlas during a phone call. “Everything he says is wrong,” Redfield said.
The coronavirus is back on the ascendant, across the United States. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins records more than 8 million confirmed cases, with nearly 220,000 deaths.
Friday saw the daily number of confirmed cases exceed 70,000 for the first time since July, with nearly 900 deaths. In a leaked report, the White House placed 26 states in the “red zone” – indicating a dangerous level of new infections – including nearly all of the states in the Midwest.
The rise in the number of cases poses a political peril for Trump as he finalizes his re-election request in two weeks. His rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has put criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic at the center of his campaign.
Despite the growing numbers and despite his own recent illness from the disease, Trump has maintained his line that the threat of the virus is overblown. At a rally in Nevada on Sunday, he repeated his false claim that the United States was “turning the corner.”
On Sunday in North Carolina, Biden said, “Like my grandpa would say,” this guy has gone around the corner if he thinks we’ve come around the corner. Things are getting worse and he continues to lie to us about the circumstances.
Trump and Atlas were regularly seen in public without wearing a mask. Their behavior goes against the official advice of the administration’s own public health agency, the CDC, which recommends wearing masks in public places.
Masks are especially important for preventing the spread of the virus in people who have no symptoms and may not know they are contagious. Face covers are primarily useful for protecting other people, rather than the people who wear them.