Trump unveils new Covid adviser who backs reopening schools

By Oliver Milman

Amid increasing public clashes with his top public health advisers on the pandemic, Donald Trump appears to have turned to an academic whose views on swift reopening in the face of coronavirus mirror his own.

On Monday, the president said that Scott Atlas, a healthcare policy expert at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, “will be working with us on the coronavirus”, adding that Atlas “has many great ideas”.

Atlas appears to be more in tune with Trump’s thinking on the virus after the president publicly criticized both of his top pandemic officials, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, over concerns they raised about the disastrous spread of Covid-19 in the US and the danger of allowing students to return to school.

In June, Atlas said the idea that schools could not reopen after the summer break was “hysteria” and “ludicrous”. The new White House adviser has also called for college football to resume – a favored move by conservatives – despite a surge in virus cases in many states.

“The environment of college sports is very sophisticated, it is controlled, there is accountability. The athletes couldn’t get a better and safer environment,” Atlas told Fox News earlier this week.

“Young people that age, without a co-morbidity, have virtually a zero risk from this. The risk is less than seasonal influenza. There is such fear in the community, and unfortunately it’s been propagated by people doing sloppy thinking and sensationalistic media reporting.”

Atlas, who has an MD degree from the University of Chicago School of Medicine, has previously provided healthcare policy advice to various businesses and presidential candidates, including Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. He has taken his services abroad, too, advising the World Bank and academics in China.

While young, healthy people appear less likely to suffer badly from coronavirus than older people, they can still spread it to others while asymptomatic.

Young people themselves are also not immune to severe effects – a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around a quarter of young adults do not recover from the virus for several weeks.

Covid-19, the study states “can be prolonged, even in young adults without chronic medical conditions, potentially leading to prolonged absence from work, studies or other activities”.

A separate study by UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospitals has found there has been a surge in hospitalizations among young people, most likely caused by Covid-19.

Despite this, the Trump administration has urged schools to reopen as normal, in some cases threatening financial support if they fail to do so. College sports have also been targeted by the administration, with Vice-President Mike Pence tweeting “America needs college football” this week.