COVID-19: Scott Atlas’s A Plague Upon Our House

- AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR ECONOMIC RESEARCH - Raymond J. March - JUN 10, 2022 -


When President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency, the US arguably faced the most significant public health crisis since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. A fearful America remained glued to their TVs, hoping for answers on how to combat the virus. As months under pandemic measures passed, paralyzing anxiety became polarizing skepticism.


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Why were President Trump and Dr. Fauci seemingly always in disagreement? Why were hospitalizations and deaths increasing while most of the country was locked down? Why did the CDC and others’ advice on stopping COVID-19 from spreading seem inconsistent and contradictory?


Scott Atlas’s A Plague Upon Our House tackles these and other critical questions. Across 313 pages and 20 chapters, Dr. Atlas details his time spent advising COVID-19 measures, his frustrating interactions with prominent political figures, shocking bureaucratic incompetence, what the “facts” told us about how to address the pandemic, and how the US failed to act. The book reads like an academic text reviewing medical and policy research spliced with a tell-all expose of what happened behind closed doors in the White House.


Chapter 1 begins in February 2020. Dr. Atlas notes, “fear had seemingly displaced critical thinking about the data already at hand” well before COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency. Only a handful of health policy scholars (Jay Bhattacharya, John Ioannidis, and Sunetra Gupta) examined the data and empirical studies critically, while political authorities trusted and quoted doomsday model predictions. Even in the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Atlas argued that lockdowns were causing more harm than good. Instead, he advocated targeted protective measures against known at-risk groups and improved testing for those groups.


Chapters Two and Three detail how Dr. Atlas left California for DC to meet with President Trump and Vice President Pence. He understands that “being associated with President Trump carried significant risk” and “they expected that I would be put out as disagreeing with Fauci and turned into a scapegoat for those who hated the president.” After reviewing the data and methods used by the COVID Task Force (led by the Vice President) to develop COVID-19 measures, he had the “first OMG moment” of his advising experience. “I knew the country was in really deep trouble,” he wrote. After a brief stint trying to advise the President from his California home, he returned to the White House to formally advise pandemic policy. It was an experience he would later liken to living in Alice in Wonderland.


Chapters Four through Nine specifically recount his interactions with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx (the Coronavirus Response Coordinator). After a few meetings, Atlas thought it naïve to try to convince either that their advice to Americans was mistaken. He notes that Dr. Birx was clearly unaware of the academic literature on COVID-19, and the methodological flaws in the studies she favorably cited (which aligned with her pro-lockdown views). Atlas also suspected that Dr. Fauci leaked details from their private conversations to the press on two separate occasions to cause him reputational damage.


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At Task Force meetings, Vice President Pence was regularly briefed on pandemic-related updates by Dr. Birx, whose data, interpretations, and suggestions were never questioned by Task Force members (other than Dr. Atlas). Frustrated, he recounts, “there was virtually no disagreement among them. It was an amazing consistency… even though some of their statements were so patently simplistic or erroneous.” Atlas also highlights that the Task Force was run entirely by Vice President Pence, with President Trump never involved or present during their meetings. He attributes this to the disconnect between COVID-19 guidelines suggested by the President and Dr. Fauci.


Criticizing the mantra “test, test, test,” Dr. Atlas argued that widespread testing for the general population did little to protect the vulnerable. Rather, it often forced those at much lower risk of being hospitalized or dying in quarantine. He explains, “when a million tests per day are conducted, that interferes with timely results on priority groups.” Many top epidemiologists, President Trump, and much of the Task Force agreed with him. However, almost none of his recommendations become part of the CDC’s guidelines on testing. Defeated, Dr. Atlas admits, “while I didn’t want to believe it, I knew everything about the pandemic was political.”


LEIA MAIS >

https://www.aier.org/article/review-scott-atlass-a-plague-upon-our-house/


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