Article of the Day: October 11, 2020

‘What are we so afraid of?’

Tony Green, on dismissing, denying, contracting and spreading the coronavirus

From the Washington Post: Eli Saslow October 10, 2020

When President Trump got sick, I had this moment of deja vu back to when I first woke up in the hospital. I know what it’s like to be humiliated by this virus. I used to call it the “scamdemic.” I thought it was an overblown media hoax. I made fun of people for wearing masks. I went all the way down the rabbit hole and fell hard on my own sword, so if you want to hate me or blame me, that’s fine. I’m doing plenty of that myself.Voices from the Pandemic is an oral history of covid-19 and those affected.

The party was my idea. That’s what I can’t get over. Well, I mean, it wasn’t even a party — more like a get-together. There were just six of us, okay? My parents, my partner, and my partner’s parents. We’d been locked down for months at that point in Texas, and the governor had just come out and said small gatherings were probably okay. We’re a close family, and we hadn’t been together in forever. It was finally summer. I thought the worst was behind us. I was like: “Hell, let’s get on with our lives. What are we so afraid of?”

Some people in my family didn’t necessarily share all of my views, but I pushed it. I’ve always been out front with my opinions. I’m gay and I’m conservative, so either way I’m used to going against the grain. I stopped trusting the media for my information when it went hard against Trump in 2016. I got rid of my cable. It’s all opinion anyway, so I’d rather come up with my own. I find a little bit of truth here and a little there, and I pile it together to see what it makes. I have about 4,000 people in my personal network, and not one of them had gotten sick. Not one. You start to hear jokes about, you know, a skydiver jumps out of a plane without a parachute and dies of covid-19. You start to think: “Something’s really fishy here.” You start dismissing and denying.

I told my family: “Come on. Enough already. Let’s get together and enjoy life for once.”

They all came for the weekend. We agreed not to do any of the distancing or worry much about it. I mean, I haven’t seen my mother in months, and I’m not supposed to go up and hug her? Come on. We have a two-story house, so there was room for us to all stay here together. We all came on our own free will. It felt like something we needed. It had been months of doing nothing, feeling nothing, seeing no one, worrying about finances with this whole shutdown. My partner had been sent home from his work. I’d been at the finish line of raising $3.5 million for a new project, and that all evaporated overnight. I’d been feeling depressed and angry, and then it was like: “Okay! I can breathe.” We cooked nice meals. We watched a few movies. I played a few songs on my baby grand piano. We drove to a lake about 60 miles outside of Dallas and talked and talked. It was nothing all that special. It was great. It was normal.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling a little iffy. I have a lot of issues with sleeping, and I thought that’s probably what it was. I let everyone know: “I don’t feel right, but I’m guessing it might be exhaustion.” I was kind of achy. There was a weird vibration inside. I had a bug-eye feeling.

A few hours later, my partner was feeling a little bad, too. Then my parents. Then my father-in-law got sick the next day, after he’d already left and gone to Austin to witness the birth of his first grandchild. I have no idea which one of us brought the virus into the house, but all six of us left with it. It kept spreading from there.

I told myself it wouldn’t be that bad. “It’s the flu. It’s basically just the flu.” I didn’t have the horrible cough you keep hearing about. My breathing never got too terrible. My fever peaked for like one day at 100.5, which is nothing — barely worth mentioning. “All right. I got this. See? It was nothing.” But then some of the other symptoms started to get wild. I was sweating profusely. I would wake up in a pool of sweat. I had this tingling feeling all over my body, this radiating kind of pain. Do you remember those old space heaters that you’d plug in, and the red lines would light up and glow? I felt like that was happening inside my bones. I was burning from the inside out. I was buzzing. I was dizzy. I couldn’t even turn my head around to look at the TV. I felt like my eyeballs were in a fishbowl, just bopping around. I rubbed Icy Hot all over my head. It was nonstop headaches and sweating for probably about a week — and then it just went away. I got some of my energy back. I had a few really good days. I started working on projects around the house. I was thinking: “Okay. That’s it. Pretty bad, but not so terrible. I beat it. I managed it. Nothing worth shutting down the entire world over.” Then one day I was walking up the stairs, and all of the sudden, I couldn’t breathe. I screamed and fell flat on my face. I blacked out. I woke up a while later in the ER, and 10 doctors were standing around me in a circle. I was lying on the table after going through a CT scan. The doctors told me the virus had attacked my nervous system. They’d given me some medications that stopped me from having a massive stroke. They said I was minutes away.

I stayed in the hospital for three days, trying to get my mind around it. It was guilt, embarrassment, shame. I thought: “Okay. Maybe now I’ve paid for my mistake.” But it kept getting worse.

Six infections turned into nine. Nine went up to 14. It spread from one family member to the next, and it was like each person caught a different strain. My mother-in-law got it and never had any real symptoms. My father is 78, and he went to get checked out at the hospital, but for whatever reasons, he seemed to recover really fast. My father-in-law nearly died in his living room and then ended up in the same hospital as me on the exact same day. His mother was in the room right next to him because she was having trouble breathing. They were lying there on both sides of the wall, fighting the same virus, and neither of them ever knew the other one was there. She died after a few weeks. On the day of her funeral, five more family members tested positive.

My father-in-law’s probably my best friend. It’s an unconventional relationship. He’s 52, only nine years older than me, and we hit it off right away. He runs a construction company, and I would tag along on his jobs and ride with him around Dallas. I’ve been through a lot in my life — from food stamps to Ferraris and then back again — so I could tell a good story and make him laugh. He builds these 20,000-square-foot custom homes, but he’d been renting his whole life. We decided to go in together on 10 acres outside Dallas, and he was finally getting ready to build his own house. We’d already done the plumbing and gotten streets built on the property. We’d planted 50 pecans and oaks to give the property some shade. He had his blueprints all drawn up. It was all he wanted to talk about.

He was on supplemental oxygen, but the doctors kept reducing the amount he was getting. They thought he was getting better. He was still making jokes, so I wasn’t all that worried. He told me: “They’ve got you upstairs in the Cadillac rooms because you’re White, but all of us Mexicans are still down here in the ER.” I got sent home, and I had a lot of guilt about leaving him there. I called him at the hospital, and I was like: “I’m going to come bust you out Mission Impossible style.” He said he preferred El Chapo style. We were laughing so hard. I hung up, and a few hours later I got a call from my mother-in-law. She was hysterical. She could barely speak. She said one of his lungs had collapsed and the other was filling with fluid. They put him on a ventilator, and he lay there on life support for six or seven weeks. There was never any goodbye. He was just gone. It’s like the world swallowed him up. We could only have 10 people at the funeral, and I didn’t make that list.

I break down sometimes, but mostly I’m empty. Am I glad to be alive? I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that.

There’s no relief. This virus, I can’t escape it. It’s torn up our family. It’s all over my Facebook. It’s the election. It’s Trump. It’s what I keep thinking about. How many people would have gotten sick if I’d never hosted that weekend? One? Maybe two? The grief comes in waves, but that guilt just sits.

eli.saslow@washpost.com

Read more Voices from the Pandemic‘She’s dead, and I’m quarantined. That’s how the story ends.’Tony Sizemore, on the death of Birdie SheltonRead his story‘You’re basically right next to the nuclear reactor.’Cory Deburghgraeve, on one of the pandemic’s most dangerous jobsRead his story‘Wearing a mask won’t protect us from our history.’Burnell Cotlon, on his beloved community groceryRead his story‘It was impossible. It’s still impossible.’Mikaela Sakal, on being an ER nurse in an overwhelmed hospitalRead her story‘Is this another death I’ll have to pronounce?’Michael Fowler, Dougherty County coroner, on the reopening of GeorgiaRead his story‘I apologize to God for feeling this way.’Gloria Jackson, on being 75, alone, and thought of as expendableRead her story‘How long can a heart last like this?’Darlene Krawetz, on what life becomes when covid-19 won’t go awayRead her story‘The fires were everywhere’Paul Swann, on the death of his mother, Darlene KrawetzRead his story‘But what happens if they run out?’Johnny Rivero, on his first time standing in a food lineRead his story‘It was me. I know it was me.’Francene Bailey, on passing the coronavirus to her motherRead her story‘Heroes, right?’Anthony Almojera, on being a New York City paramedic and the injustices of covid-19Read his story‘We’re all starved for hope’Ian Haydon, on the trial and error of being injected with a covid-19 vaccineRead his story‘No mask, no entry. Is that clear enough?’Lori Wagoner, store clerk, on trying to enforce a state requirement to wear masksRead her story‘I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy’Jeff Gregorich, superintendent, on trying to reopen his schools safelyRead his story‘May rent. June rent. Late fees. Penalties.’Tusdae Barr, on being evicted from her home during the coronavirus crisisRead her story‘How is this possible? What are the odds?’The Graveson family, on what the coronavirus has done to themRead their story‘Mom, help help help help!’Jessica Santos-Rojo, on working, teaching, and parenting at home during the crisisRead her story‘What could possibly go wrong?’Chris Anderson, on the risks of running a presidential election in a pandemicRead his story‘The cure has been worse than the disease.’Mike Fratantuono, on the death of a family businessRead his story

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Article of the Day: 10/8/20 New England Journal of Medicine Editorial Calling for a Change in U.S. Leadership

Dying in a Leadership Vacuum

Synopsis for those who don’t want to read the whole article: Tens of t housands of “American lives NEEDLESLY lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.

The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering,1 the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China. The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada, exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000. Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.

We know that we could have done better. China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation after an initial delay. These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States. Countries that had far more exchange with China, such as Singapore and South Korea, began intensive testing early, along with aggressive contact tracing and appropriate isolation, and have had relatively small outbreaks. And New Zealand has used these same measures, together with its geographic advantages, to come close to eliminating the disease, something that has allowed that country to limit the time of closure and to largely reopen society to a prepandemic level. In general, not only have many democracies done better than the United States, but they have also outperformed us by orders of magnitude.

Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? We have failed at almost every step. We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public. And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing. While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have.2 Moreover, a lack of emphasis on developing capacity has meant that U.S. test results are often long delayed, rendering the results useless for disease control.

Although we tend to focus on technology, most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated. The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust.

The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.

The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized,3 appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government,4 causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

Articles of the Day: Two Views of the Coronavirus, Rick Bright (at the top) and Scott Atlas (following). Which would you prefer to be in charge?

Whistle-Blowing Scientist Quits Government With Final Broadside

Dr. Rick Bright, who said he was demoted at the health department for blowing the whistle on a politicized coronavirus response, remains concerned about White House interference.

By Sheryl Gay StolbergOct. 6, 2020

Rick Bright said he had submitted his “involuntary resignation,” because his bosses had made his work life intolerable.
Rick Bright said he had submitted his “involuntary resignation,” because his bosses had made his work life intolerable.Pool photo by Greg Nash

WASHINGTON — Rick Bright, a senior vaccine scientist who said he was demoted this spring for complaining about “cronyism” and political interference in science, resigned his final government post on Tuesday, saying he had been sidelined and left with nothing to do.

In a new addendum to the whistle-blower complaint he filed in May, Dr. Bright’s lawyers say officials at the National Institutes of Health, where he worked after his demotion, rejected his idea for a national coronavirus testing strategy “because of political considerations.” He also accused them of ignoring his request to join the $10 billion effort to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed.

“I long to serve the American people by using my skills to fight this pandemic,” Dr. Bright wrote on Sept. 25 to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the institutes, noting that he had 25 years of experience in vaccine development. “The taxpayers who pay my salary deserve no less.”

Dr. Bright’s resignation from the Department of Health and Human Services comes six months after he was ousted as the chief of the department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and reassigned to a narrower job at the health institutes, which also fall under the health department. At the N.I.H, he was supposed to take the lead on developing novel point-of-care coronavirus tests. His lawyers said he did that, creating a team that awarded eight contracts to build up coronavirus testing and exhausted its budget.

But, one of his lawyers said on Tuesday, Dr. Bright “remains very concerned” about the politicization of science from the White House, especially with the arrival from Stanford’s Hoover Institution of Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a neuroradiologistwithout training in epidemiology or infectious diseases. Dr. Atlas’s aversion to mask wearing and his belief that “herd immunity” could stop Covid-19 have made him a favorite of President Trump’s.

During his weekly meetings with Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health, it has become clear that President Trump’s new science adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, “who lacks a background in infectious disease, is ‘calling the shots’ at the White House,” Dr. Bright’s lawyers wrote.

Dr. Collins did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have previously said that they strongly disagree with Dr. Bright’s characterizations, and Mr. Trump has called Dr. Bright a “disgruntled employee” on Twitter. An N.I.H. official said on Tuesday that the agency could “confirm that Dr. Bright has resigned, effective today,” adding that it “does not discuss personnel issues beyond confirming employment.”

Coronavirus Schools Briefing: It’s back to school — or is it?

Dr. Bright has been given “no meaningful work” since Sept. 4, the lawyers wrote.

“Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at N.I.H. because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” the lawyers, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, said in a statement.

In his initial complaint filed in May, Dr. Bright detailed what he called “cronyism” in the federal health apparatus, including White House pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to grant an emergency approval for hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug championed by Mr. Trump as a treatment for Covid-19. (The F.D.A. later revoked the emergency authorization, saying studies showed the drug’s risks outweighed its benefits.)

The complaint detailed clashes between Dr. Bright and higher-ups at the health department, and included email messages showing that, as early as January, when the president was saying the outbreak was “totally under control,” Dr. Bright was pressing for the government to stock up on masks and drugs. His entreaties were ignored.

“Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost,” he told a House subcommittee in May.

The special counsel’s office said at the time that it had found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Trump administration was retaliating against Dr. Bright, and recommended that Mr. Trump’s health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, reinstate Dr. Bright while it investigated. But the office has no authority to enforce its recommendation, and Dr. Bright did not get back his job.

While at the N.I.H., the addendum says, Dr. Bright “successfully launched a program to expand Covid-19 diagnostic testing,” and then joined with a colleague on a paper recommending development of “a robust national testing infrastructure,” including a plan to greatly expand testing of asymptomatic people. A draft of the paper was sent to Dr. Collins on Sept. 4.

But while Dr. Collins praised Dr. Bright for developing a “thoughtful” plan that “includes a lot of good points,” he declined to support it because he feared that the Trump administration would not back it and that it would “step on the toes” of other teams within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Bright, the lawyers wrote, was “disturbed that Dr. Collins appeared willing to bow to political pressure.”

A New Coronavirus Adviser Roils the White House With Unorthodox Ideas

Dr. Scott Atlas arrived at the White House as a coronavirus contrarian, questioning controls like masks. He has angered top health officials while pushing a suite of disputed policy prescriptions.

By Noah WeilandSheryl Gay StolbergMichael D. Shear and Jim TankersleyPublished Sept. 2, 2020Updated Sept. 9, 2020

Dr. Scott W. Atlas is neither an epidemiologist nor an infectious disease expert, but his frequent appearances on Fox News Channel and his ideological surety caught the president’s eye.
Dr. Scott W. Atlas is neither an epidemiologist nor an infectious disease expert, but his frequent appearances on Fox News Channel and his ideological surety caught the president’s eye.Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Dr. Scott W. Atlas has argued that the science of mask wearing is uncertain, that children cannot pass on the coronavirus and that the role of the government is not to stamp out the virus but to protect its most vulnerable citizens as Covid-19 takes its course.

Ideas like these, both ideologically freighted and scientifically disputed, have propelled the radiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution into President Trump’s White House, where he is pushing to reshape the administration’s response to the pandemic.

Mr. Trump has embraced Dr. Atlas, as has Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, even as he upsets the balance of power within the White House coronavirus task force with ideas that top government doctors and scientists like Anthony S. Fauci, Deborah L. Birx and Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, find misguided — even dangerous — according to people familiar with the task force’s deliberations.

That might be the point.

“I think Trump clearly does not like the advice he was receiving from the people who are the experts — Fauci, Birx, etc. — so he has slowly shifted from their advice to somebody who tells him what he wants to hear,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University who is close to Dr. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

Dr. Atlas is neither an epidemiologist nor an infectious disease expert, the two jobs usually associated with pandemic response. But his frequent appearances on Fox News Channel and his ideological surety caught the president’s eye.

So when Mr. Trump resumed his coronavirus news conferences in July and August, it was Dr. Atlas who helped prepare his briefing materials, according to people familiar with them. And it was his ideas that spilled from the president’s mouth.

“He has many great ideas,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a White House briefing last month with Dr. Atlas seated feet away. “And he thinks what we’ve done is really good, and now we’ll take it to a new level.”

The core of his appeal in the West Wing rests in his libertarian-style approach to disease management in which the government focuses on small populations of at-risk individuals — the elderly, the sick and the immune-compromised — and minimizes restrictions for the rest of the population, akin to an approach used to disastrous effect in Sweden. The argument: Most people infected by the coronavirus will not get seriously ill, and at some point, enough people will have antibodies from Covid-19 to deprive the virus of carriers — “herd immunity.”

“Once you get to a certain number — we use the word herd — once you get to a certain number, it’s going to go away,” Mr. Trump told Laura Ingraham on Fox News on Monday night.

Dr. Atlas’s push has led to repeated private confrontations with Dr. Birx, who in recent weeks has been advocating rigorous rules on wearing masks, limiting bars and restaurants, and minimizing large public gatherings.

Dr. Atlas declined a request to be interviewed, but Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, accused the news media of trying to “distort and diminish” his beliefs and record, adding that the adviser “is working to carry out the president’s No. 1 priority: protecting the health and safety of the American people.” White House officials said there had never been an attempt to shift policy to anything resembling herd immunity.

“There’s never been any advocacy of a herd immunity strategy coming from me to the president, to anyone in the administration, to the task force, to anyone I’ve spoken to,” Dr. Atlas said in a radio interview Tuesday.

White House officials said administration policy continued to focus on efforts to curb the spread of the disease while pushing to rapidly develop medical therapies to minimize deaths, as well as a vaccine. The president and his aides believe effective treatments are critical to allowing the country to return to normal.

But health officials say Dr. Atlas’s beliefs, argued in news media appearances and private conversations, have begun to shift the administration’s thinking.

Before joining the task force, Dr. Atlas pitched his ideas as a health commentator on Fox News, which is in part how he attracted Mr. Trump’s attention. His arrival at the White House has coincided with less visible roles for Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, two top health officials on the coronavirus task force, often find Dr. Atlas’s ideas misguided or dangerous, according to people familiar with the task force’s deliberations.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, two top health officials on the coronavirus task force, often find Dr. Atlas’s ideas misguided or dangerous, according to people familiar with the task force’s deliberations.Doug Mills/The New York Times

Dr. Atlas pushed for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish a new recommendation last week that people without Covid-19 symptoms need not be tested, even if they were exposed to an infected person — a move that ran counter to evidence that people without symptoms could be the most prolific spreaders.

In a tense coronavirus task force meeting in which the guidelines were debated, Dr. Atlas angered Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, and Dr. Birx, according to senior administration officials.

Coronavirus Schools Briefing: It’s back to school — or is it?

But it is Dr. Atlas’s embrace of herd immunity that has alienated his colleagues the most.

“When you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you’re prolonging the problem because you’re preventing population immunity,” Dr. Atlas said in a Fox News radio interview in July. “Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem. In fact, it’s a positive.”

In a Fox News interview in June, he lamented that “misinformation has spread” about herd immunity, arguing: “The reality is that when a population has enough people who have had the infection, and since these people don’t have a problem with the infection, that’s not a problem. That’s not a bad thing.”

In Sweden, the government allowed restaurants, gyms, shops, playgrounds and schools to remain open as the virus spread, asking its citizens to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines and protect more vulnerable parts of the population.

The Washington Post on Monday reported Dr. Atlas’s advocacy for such a model.

That “soft lockdown” in Sweden had calamitous consequences, even in a country less densely populated and healthier than the United States. Thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed strict lockdowns. The country’s economy also continued to struggle, and Sweden still falls far short of what scientists view as a possible threshold for herd immunity.

But the idea has gained traction in conservative circles. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, says the United States needs to look at Sweden “before letting the nanny-staters shut the economy down again.”

The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed it on his show in Apriland cheered Dr. Atlas’s hiring at the White House, saying he was “countering Fauci.”

“Scott Atlas is a brilliant guy, and he thinks by early October that we could well be burned out of Covid,” Mr. Limbaugh said.

Kevin Hassett, a former chairman of Mr. Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, who returned briefly to the White House this spring to help with the response to the pandemic, called Dr. Atlas “a legendary physician, and one of the smartest guys I know.”

He cited Dr. Atlas’s early warnings for governors to protect nursing homes from the virus. “He’s very similar to President Trump, in that you never have to wonder what he thinks,” Mr. Hassett said.

Mr. Trump is clearly enamored with Dr. Atlas’s arguments, which back up the president’s desire to restart the economy, open schools and move beyond the daily drumbeat of dire virus news.

But fully embracing any version of a policy resembling herd immunity has profound medical and political risks. Simply allowing the virus to travel through most of the population could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths. And medical officials are still not sure how long that immunity might last, and how long-lasting some effects of the virus could be.

“Trying to get to herd immunity other than with a vaccine isn’t a strategy,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former C.D.C. director. “It’s a catastrophe.”

Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who has researched and written about herd immunity, said that “the appeal of the concept of herd immunity is that it suggests we can simply go about doing our regular daily lives and the coronavirus pandemic will take care of itself,” but that it has been tried and has not worked. “Where we have had less stringent responses, we’ve had more cases and more deaths,” he said.

Dr. Atlas’s medical background — chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012 and editor of the textbook “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine” — appears incongruous with his current role.

But Dr. Atlas does have political connections in Mr. Trump’s world. He has advised the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his Hoover Institution employs several staunch supporters of Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus.

Some Hoover scholars were early opponents of state and local government moves to shut down economic activity in March and April, including Richard Epstein, a law professor who predicted in March that only 500 Americans would die of the virus.

Another Hoover scholar, David R. Henderson, wrote in May: “If the lockdowns are ended immediately, will there be more deaths than if the they were not ended forthwith? Probably. But that won’t be enough to declare that ending the lockdown was a failure.”

In Washington, Dr. Atlas has introduced new tension to the coronavirus task force.

In one of his first meetings, he argued over the science of mask wearing. As Drs. Fauci and Birx maintained that drops in caseloads reflected public health measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing, Dr. Atlas insisted that peaks and declines could have merely been the virus running its course, senior administration officials said.

In other discussions, he argued that children cannot spread the virus, despite numerous studies that have shown that children can carry the virus, transmit it and die from it.

In a June interview with the Hoover Institution, he called it “literally irrational” to close schools. “All over the world, Switzerland, Iceland, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Asian countries, there is a minimal, if any, risk of children transmitting the disease, even to their parents,” he said.

Dr. Atlas brought a similar argument to an August event encouraging school reopenings with Mr. Trump and Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

His role in the White House has given conservative media a new official to present as a scientific authority on the coronavirus.

“The reality is that there’s certain data that’s very controversial about masks,” he told Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, in August, railing against the “massive amount of fear bordering on hysteria.”

Dr. Atlas has also regularly promoted an idea that immunologists say is simply wrong, that immune cells called T cells, programmed with infection from other coronaviruses, can function like antibodies to prevent Covid-19.