Estimated cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. have surged well past eight million, with estimates of about 220,000 confirmed deaths, and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates the country is currently on course for nearly 400,000 total deaths by February. The White House is, if it’s even possible, doing less than ever to stop it.
According to a recent piece in the Washington Post, White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas—he’s the guy the president brought on to lend even the barest impression of scientific credibility to ideas like limiting virus testing, rejecting precautions like masks, and pursuing “herd immunity”—has generated so much frustration over his incompetence that task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has called for his removal. That does not appear to be happening. Atlas apparently feels so confident in his standing that he sat behind the president’s desk in the Oval Office after Trump left a meeting, according to the Post:
Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
Atlas’s ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president’s personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account “false and laughable.”
Atlas recently endorsed the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a proposal signed by several prominent scientists that advocates a strategy functionally indistinguishable from herd immunity. Attaining herd immunity would require many times the existing number of cases in the U.S. and thus would be expected to result in a proportional rise in deaths.
Other details in the report hammer home that the White House is only concerned with misleading the public in the hopes of generating a much-needed boost in the polls before the elections. Two weeks out, Democratic nominee Joe Biden holds a double-digit lead in poll averages.
In August, the Post wrote, Trump railed against National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, saying that the NIH wasn’t moving quickly enough to greenlight vaccines or other treatments for the coronavirus. It’s not a secret that the White House is trying to rush out a vaccine before Nov. 3, but this detail is frustrating for a different reason: The NIH does not play a role approving treatments or vaccines, which are instead approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
For that matter, sources told the Post that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has “repeatedly challenged” FDA policies on the clearance of new drugs to the agency’s director, Dr. Stephen Hahn, and Trump believes there is a deliberate effort at the FDA to stonewall the release of treatments until after the election. The paper also reported that White House political staff are preparing a campaign to announce that a vaccine “is safe, approved and ready for mass distribution” regardless of whether that is true.
On Monday, in a call with campaign staff, the president said the U.S. public is exhausted of hearing about the pandemic and would prefer that all the yapping about it would just go away. He added that he is considering facilitating that by firing National Institutes for Allergens and Infectious Disease chief Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“People are tired of Covid,” Trump said, per the Hill. “Yup, there’s going to be spikes, there’s going to be no spikes, there’s going to be vaccines. With or without vaccines, people are tired of Covid. I have the biggest rallies I have ever had and we have Covid. People are saying whatever, just leave us alone. They’re tired of it.”
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong,” Trump went on. “Fauci is a nice guy, he’s been here for 500 years, he called every one of them wrong.”
On Sunday, Fauci told 60 Minutes he is “absolutely not” surprised Trump contracted the coronvirus and that the U.S. not yet “on the road to essentially getting out of this.” As well, Fauci said he believed the White House was restricting his media appearances. In the call, Trump said that the only reason Fauci hasn’t been fired is because of the NIAID director’s high standing with the public.
“Every time he goes on television there’s always a bomb,” Trump continued. “But there is a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci is a disaster. I mean, this guy, if I listened to him, we would have 500,000 deaths. Fauci, if we listened to him, we’d have 700,000 to 800,000 deaths right now. So, with that, I get along with him. If there’s a reporter on, you have it just the way I said it. I couldn’t care less.”
Trump later tweeted on Monday that all he wants of Fauci is to “make better decisions,” before again mocking Fauci’s opening pitch at a Washington Nationals game in July.