Donald Trump “inherited” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been in his position since the Reagan administration.
“Dr. Trump,” snake oil salesman, does not appreciate Dr. Fauci face palming and contradicting him when he pushes dangerous and deadly remedies for COVID-19 to the public, like ingesting household cleaners, Almost 50 North Texans Drank Bleach This Month, Poison Center Warns ‘Stop, It Won’t Cure COVID’, the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, FDA cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19, or the “My Pillow” guy’s oleandrin extract, Dangerous Oleander Extract Not a COVID-19 Cure.
And then there is the recent scandal of FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn hyping convalescent plasma as a ‘miracle” treatment. An NIH Panel Said There’s No Good Data To Show That Plasma Treats COVID, Contradicting Trump.
So Trump did what he always does, hired some dude he saw watching Fox News saying the same stupid shit that he says in order to push Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx to the side.
But first, remember earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic was reaching its first peak in April? Trump had already given up on fighting the virus, wanting to reopen the economy by Easter. The Washington Post reported at the time, Trump administration has many task forces — but still no plan for beating covid-19 (excerpt):
During one task force meeting in the Situation Room last month, Trump turned to Fauci and challenged him.
It was the day the administration was adding Ireland and the United Kingdom to its travel restrictions, and Trump wanted to understand why talk of “herd immunity” — allowing the coronavirus to sweep a nation largely unchecked, with the belief that those who survived would then be immune — was such a bad idea.
“Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump asked, according to two people familiar with his comments, a question other administration officials say he has raised repeatedly in the Oval Office.
Fauci initially seemed confused by the term “wash over” but became alarmed once he understood what Trump was asking.
“Mr. President, many people would die,” Fauci said.
Fast forward to last week’s Republican National Convention:
The official White House position is now “everybody is going to catch this thing eventually.”
That’s what on the ballot. Vote accordingly this November. https://t.co/ekin57M0cu
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) August 28, 2020
Meet the new White House coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas. Media Matters reports, Millions could die if Trump listens to the adviser he hired from Fox’s green room:
White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas is urging President Donald Trump to allow the virus to spread through the country’s population in order to build “herd immunity,” and the administration has already taken steps in that direction, according to a Monday report from The Washington Post. Public health experts inside and outside the government warned the Post that a “herd immunity” strategy may prove ultimately ineffective if people who recover from COVID-19 can become reinfected. And it could result in a staggering death toll — a Post analysis found that “it may require 2.13 million deaths to reach a 65 percent threshold of herd immunity.”
Why is Atlas, a radiologist who worked for a right-wing think tank [Hoover Institution] before joining the administration earlier this month, in a position to give the president recommendations that could result in the deaths of millions of Americans? Trump had been seeking a doctor who opposed the cautious views of top health advisers Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, and “Atlas caught Trump’s attention with a spate of Fox News appearances in recent months,” according to the Post report. Atlas’ hiring was another case of the Trump-Fox feedback loop shaping crucial administration decisions — and in this case, the results could prove catastrophic.
Atlas used Fox’s airwaves to tell the president exactly what he wanted to hear. He regularly downplayed the threat posed by the virus over 20 Fox appearances between the end of April and his August hiring, as Media Matters documented. He repeatedly used those interviews to push for swiftly reopening businesses and schools based on the false premise that young people “do not have a significant problem, they do not have the serious complications, they do not die” from COVID-19. While providing Atlas with a platform, Fox hosts frequently denounced Fauci and other public health experts. That likely influenced Trump’s desire for a new adviser who would put a doctor’s gloss on his bogus notion that the coronavirus poses little threat.
[Trump’s] Fox obsession regularly powers his administration’s actions, and played a key role in his response throughout the pandemic. When Trump downplayed the pandemic in its early days, then briefly took it more seriously, promoted untested drugs as possible cures, boosted protesters demanding the reopening of the economy, expressed disdain for masks, and ended U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, he was responding to the network’s coverage.
Fox’s coronavirus coverage is a public health menace, and we are all living — or dying — with the consequences.
Charlotte Klein at Vanity Fair adds, Trump’s New Favorite COVID Adviser Thinks “Herd Immunity” Is a Good Idea (excerpt):
Atlas “does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology” and was reportedly hired “to argue an alternative point of view” from Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, two central members of the White House coronavirus task force “whom the president has grown increasingly annoyed with for public comments that he believes contradict his own assertions that the threat of the virus is receding.” Atlas apparently caught Trump’s attention as a regular on Fox News, where he has appeared 20 times since the end of April to voice unproven claims and incorrect predictions, many of which support Trump’s insistence on a return to normalcy. Atlas reportedly meets with Trump on a near-daily basis, more than any other health official, and is “advocating policies that appeal to Trump’s desire to move past the pandemic and get the economy going.”
[Atlas] has argued that the herd immunity approach would not lead to more deaths if the vulnerable are protected and said, in a July appearance on Fox News, “When younger, healthier people get the disease, they don’t have a problem with the disease. I’m not sure why that’s so difficult for everyone to acknowledge.” Infectious-disease experts contest both claims: more than 25,000 people younger than 65 have died of the virus in the United States, per the Post, and the high rate of obesity and heart disease in the U.S. means more people overall are vulnerable to it. Not to mention Atlas and Trump are pushing for a return to schools, which could put older people who don’t live in nursing homes at risk.
The administration has already started to embrace policies in line with Atlas’s approach, as evidenced by the abrupt change in CDC testing guidelines last week that undercuts the risk posed by asymptomatic carriers, a decision reportedly made while Fauci was undergoing surgery. Fauci told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he “was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations,” which suggest people without symptoms may not need to be tested, even if they’ve been in close contact with an infected individual. “I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern,” Fauci said. “In fact it is.”
More evidence of Atlas’s influence cropped up last week during Trump’s keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. In addition to the absence of masks and social distancing among the crowd on Thursday night, the president made a passing reference to the plan Atlas has pushed for. “My administration has a different approach. To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts and the data,” he said. “We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and school.”
Here’s something else Trump picked up from his Fox News addiction. Trump picks up where Fox News left off, with new coronavirus death-toll conspiracy theory:
In late March, President Trump set the goal posts for a successful coronavirus response: between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths. “And so if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 … so we have between 100- and 200,000, and we altogether have done a very good job.”
By Trump’s own standard, the coronavirus response will soon have failed to constitute “a very good job.” The death toll has now crested 180,000, and with about 900 people dying per day on average this month, that 200,000 threshold will almost definitely be passed well before Election Day — and possibly even ahead of the first presidential debate in late September.
Note: The United States is on track to have 262,000 coronavirus deaths by Election Day if current projections hold, according to the IHME model.
Trump’s response to this, if this weekend is any indication, will be to question the legitimacy of that death toll. But the conspiracy theory he retweeted is merely the latest specious attempt to inject doubt into people’s minds about just how deadly covid-19 is.
Trump retweeted a QAnon supporter who cited a nugget on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says, “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned,” which the post suggested meant only 6 percent of the reported coronavirus deaths were actually due to the virus. Trump also retweeted a campaign aide, Jenna Ellis, who linked to a post on the same topic from the conspiracy-theory website Gateway Pundit. Both of Trump’s retweets were later deleted.
The first problem with the claim is that its purveyor said that “this week the CDC quietly updated” its website to reflect the stat. In fact, the CDC website has included this information since at least May.
The bigger problem, though, is that having other causes of death doesn’t mean you didn’t die of covid-19. Those who fill out death certificates are supposed to include other causes, which are often conditions caused by the coronavirus (such as heart failure or pneumonia) or co-morbidities that made the person more susceptible to dying from the virus. Indeed, there is a reason that it’s very rare for covid-19 to be listed as the only cause of death — because it causes the things you die of.
But the claim is a lot like its predecessors — in its intimation that this data is suddenly being altered to reflect the truth and in its implausible suggestion that scores of people who die with the coronavirus somehow aren’t dying of the coronavirus.
* * *
Fox News host Laura Ingraham retweeted a dubious news source that claimed, “New CDC Coronavirus Data Cuts American Death Toll Nearly In HALF.”
Except the CDC bases its numbers on death certificates, which its website notes means, “Death counts are delayed and may differ from other published sources” — sometimes lagging by weeks. The CDC elsewhere on its website also featured a death toll that topped 65,000, which echoed the oft-cited numbers that it was supposedly revising downward.
Ingraham’s fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson also toyed with a theory that pneumonia deaths were being improperly coded as coronavirus deaths, because the CDC numbers on pneumonia deaths were lower than at the same points in past years. But the data periods Carlson covered didn’t even include large numbers of coronavirus deaths, which meant the theory didn’t make sense. And again, the lagging numbers were because of the CDC’s reliance on death certificates. (In fact, the data soon showed that pneumonia deaths had actually spiked during that period.)
Fox News analyst Brit Hume around the same time also floated the idea that people with preexisting conditions who died after getting the coronavirus didn’t actually die of the virus. The odds of dying so shortly after coming down with the virus but it having played no role in the death are, again, very small. Fox News host Harris Faulkner also floated this theory to a medical expert, who dismissed its significance.
Around this time, White House coronavirus task force experts Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx made clear that they had little time for these amateur data truthers.
“Those individuals will have an underlying condition, but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it’s related to a covid infection,” Birx said. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”
Fauci warned against such “conspiracy theories” about coronavirus data.
And in fact, as has been frequently noted, it’s likely that the death toll is significantly higher than that 180,000 figure — and might already have crested 200,000 weeks ago. That is because the number of excess deaths we’ve seen this year relative to previous years is higher than that.
[Trump] this weekend sought to inject some doubt into the very same reporting he had vouched for as accurate — using a laughable claim that the coronavirus death toll is actually about 1/20th of what is being reported. Someone apparently thought better of it, and the tweets were deleted. (Ellis’s tweet, though, remains up.)
But as the number creeps closer to the upper bound of Trump’s benchmark for success — and given his affinity for such conspiracy theories and his media allies’ anxiety to push them — it’s not difficult to see this kind of thing rearing its ugly head again.
White House coronavirus adviser Anthony S. Fauci on Tuesday refuted online misinformation amplified by President Trump that the virus’s death toll has been vastly overstated in the United States. Anthony Fauci Refutes COVID-19 Death Toll Claim Retweeted By Trump.