President Trump has not met with the White House coronavirus task force in “quite some time,” the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Tuesday.
NIH Director Francis Collins told NPR’s “Morning Edition” that Trump instead gets his information from Vice President Pence and task force member Scott Atlas, neither of whom are infectious disease experts.
“I think the president primarily is getting his information from the vice president, from Dr. Atlas,” Collins said.
“Obviously, it’s a bit of a chaotic time with the election…There’s not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago, but this seems to be a different time with different priorities.”
Atlas is a neuroradiologist and a fellow at the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank. He was added to the task force over the summer after appearing frequently on Fox News.
Atlas has emerged as one of Trump’s most influential advisers, but he has come under fire from public health experts inside and outside the administration who accuse him of feeding the president misinformation.
Like Trump, Atlas has publicly questioned the value of doing more testing, mask wearing, and has said pandemic restrictions amount to “panic.”
Atlas has also argued that even if low-risk people get infected with COVID-19, it won’t lead to more deaths.
Most controversially, he has praised the herd immunity strategy outlined in a document called the “Great Barrington Declaration,” which calls for allowing the virus to spread among lower-risk, younger people to build up immunity while having “focused protection” on older, high-risk people.
In the NPR interview, Collins urged people to “consider the source” of their information about the coronavirus, and listen to public health officials.
Collins also said the surge of COVID-19 infections is “sadly somewhat predictable” because the U.S. has never been willing or able to get the virus under control and drive infections down to a manageable level.
“We have not succeeded in this country in introducing really effective public health measures, those simple things that we all could be doing. Wear your mask, keep that six-foot distance and don’t congregate indoors, whatever you do, and wash your hands. It’s so simple,” Collins said
“People are talking about, is this the second wave? We never got over the first wave, we never really drove the cases down to the baseline,” he added. “Here we are now with 220,000 dead and we’re going straight up again with the number of cases that are happening each day.”