Atlas, a neuroradiologist, and not an expert in infectious diseases, strongly supported a decision in August to review federal guidelines to alleviate the need to test people without symptoms, according to two sources familiar with the process. He shared his view with state officials, including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and many others in Florida, according to transcripts of public events and accounts from private meetings in that state.
“The purpose of the test is to prevent people from dying,” Atlas said during one stopover videotaped. “When you start closing schools because people have positive tests without symptoms, that’s kind of not the purpose of the test.”
“I think, Dr. Atlas, we agree to focus strategies in school on people who are showing symptoms,” DeSantis said at another joint press conference that day.
Their push not to focus on testing coincided with a drastic drop in testing across Florida, even as the country was heading toward an increase in coronaviruses. CNN’s analysis of official Florida numbers, compiled by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that testing dropped at the end of July and early August, with an average seven-day average of more than 90,000 tests per day on July 18. In early September, the seven-day average nearly halved, with fewer than 48,000 tests per day, and hovering between 60,000 tests through the fall.
Although Atlas and DeSantis declined to discuss their views with CNN on this story, they have made it public. Some government and local officials believe the couple were influential in taking Trump’s anti-test remarks and helping turn them into public policy. The drop in testing is a deep concern to some. This happened while positivity rates remained high, in the range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regards as indicative of a high community prevalence.
Experts say asymptomatic Covid-19 vectors are still contagious. The lack of widespread testing makes it difficult to map disease as it spreads and warn those at risk of disease.
“There is no doubt more people will die,” says Dan Gilber, mayor of Miami Beach, a critic of DeSantis’ approach to testing and other issues of managing the epidemic. “We fly blind without tests.”
For now, the nation is suffering another wave of disease. Daily case numbers are at levels not seen since late July, and Florida is starting to rise as well. Experts say widespread testing, including asymptomatic carriers, is critical to curbing the spread of the virus.
A White House spokesperson claimed Atlas had never called for a reduction in testing, despite the doctor’s public statements suggesting otherwise.
Judd Derry wrote in an email to CNN that Atlas and the President “are focusing on intelligently using the Massive Testing Program to save lives and protect vulnerable individuals in high-risk settings.” “The management’s testing strategy, and Dr. Atlas’s advice, is fundamentally rooted in the primary goal of saving lives, while helping schools, businesses, churches, and other institutions, to open up, re-open, and stay open.”
A DeSantis spokesperson said it is acting on its own.
“We are not going steady with anyone,” said Fred Piccolo, the governor’s communications director. “We respect Dr. Atlas. But we don’t have orders from the White House.”
Atlas: From Fox Commentator to Trump’s Trusted Advisor
“I definitely don’t authorize him like Scott Atlas now,” Fauci said of Trump on MSNBC on Friday. This situation has changed. “
John Cochran, a researcher at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where Atlas is a senior fellow, has defended his colleague’s desire to resist consensus.
“Prudent public policy must balance the spread of disease with the massive economy [and] “I think the insight behind a lot of his own recommendations,” said Cochrane, the economist.
One of Atlas’ first steps as a task force member was to work on reviewing CDC guidelines in order to reduce emphasis on the need for asymptomatic testing, according to two sources familiar with the process.
The warning was later reversed due to objections from CDC scientists, but the short-lived guidance demonstrated the influence of Atlas and helped him spread a message, including in Florida.
DeSantis shares some of Trump’s thoughts on the pandemic
Meanwhile, DeSantis has focused on similar things.
After Trump’s demands in July that schools reopen across the country, the governor has become a staunch supporter of returning Florida schools to normal business. DeSantis supported an emergency order issued by his commissioner of education in July that public schools should prepare to open five days a week for personalized learning, and compare the schools to open retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot.
He also criticized some universities in the state for what he described as “brutal” punishments for students who violated the Covid-19 protocols.
So it was noticeable that Atlas joined DeSantis in Florida during his first week of study at the state’s leading public university, the University of Florida. Beginning on August 31, the duo traveled across the state, promoting their shared ideas about the importance of reopening schools, with an emphasis on protecting the elderly rather than testing people without symptoms.
Summarizing his point of view at a press conference alongside DeSantis on the same day, Atlas said, “The goal of all of these things is to save lives, not to document people who are asymptomatic and those at low risk.”
“I’ve been talking with Governor DeSantis for a long time about the pandemic, and it’s really an example of doing something with the careful thoughtful approach we need in this,” Atlas said later that day at a joint press conference in Tampa. .
During their joint tour, DeSantis and Atlas gave multiple press conferences and met privately with public health experts and officials to explain their common views. At a private meeting on August 31, DeSantis and Atlas told a room of health officials that they should not test college students without symptoms, according to an official who was present.
The official said on his personal impression from the meeting: “It was very clear that the governor had completely agreed to this idea and that we were reprimanded.”
The person said the general tone was like DeSantis went to Cape Canaveral and gave a lecture on rocket science. The source said: “So let me tell you how it works.” “First, the fire comes out of the missile, then the missile explodes, then the missile reaches the blue part of the sky, then it reaches the black part of the sky, then into space.”
An aide to DeSantis said the governor is simply focusing on protecting the vulnerable and reopening the economy.
A Piccolo spokesman said he believed the lockdowns were “a misguided and counterproductive strategy to defeat the Coronavirus.”
Vaccinate the herd
The idea that people without symptoms should not be tested is a highly controversial one among infectious disease experts.
“There is no way to hide the epidemic by not taking the tests,” said Dr. Jennifer Nozo, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Health Security Center. “Even if we don’t count people who have mild or no symptoms, they still have them, and they’re still contagious to others, and it will eventually appear.”
On the other hand, “herd immunity” believers are less interested in blanket testing. The White House and Atlas spoke positively of the work of a group of infectious disease specialists who, in a statement called the Great Barrington Declaration, called for opening up the economy and allowing rampant infections to induce widespread immunity.
In September, DeSantis appeared in a hypothetical public conference with two of the lead authors of the advertising group, according to several local news accounts. The next day, he suddenly announced that the country would reopen completely, with no restrictions on companies or schools or mandates to wear masks. The mayor said he was not notified in advance, nor was he invited to attend public hearings.
“Everyone was surprised,” said Gilber, mayor of Miami Beach. There was no warning. “