Stanford doctors slam Atlas for coronavirus views

2020 09 03 22 16 2679 Coronavirus Blood Cells 400

A group of physicians from Stanford Medicine has authored an open letter criticizing radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas -- a former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford -- for what they said were "falsehoods and misrepresentations of science" with respect to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Atlas was appointed in August by President Donald Trump to advise the White House on the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that his background is in radiology rather than epidemiology or infectious diseases. The appointment was widely seen as an attempt by Trump to create a counterweight to voices in the administration who advise a more cautious approach to managing the pandemic, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.

Atlas is closely associated with the "herd immunity" theory of managing the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, this calls for protecting more vulnerable populations while allowing younger, healthier individuals to become infected, survive, and build up an immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

In the September 9 letter, a group of Stanford physicians describing themselves as infectious disease researchers, microbiologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, and health policy leaders wrote that they had "a moral and ethical responsibility to call attention to the falsehoods and misrepresentations of science fostered by Dr. Scott Atlas."

The letter claims that opinions and statements by Atlas "run counter to established science" and undermine public health authorities. It then provides a list of statements that the Stanford physicians say have been proven by data, such as the effectiveness of hand washing, face masks, and social distancing in reducing the transmission of COVID-19, and the fact that crowded indoor spaces can increase community spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The letter also notes that data have shown that SARS-CoV-2 transmission can occur from asymptomatic carriers to family members and others; this demonstrates the importance of COVID-19 testing.

The safest path to controlling the pandemic -- and to herd immunity -- is through the deployment of effective vaccines that have been approved by regulatory agencies. On the other hand, achieving herd immunity through "unchecked community transmission is not a safe public health strategy," and indeed would lead to a "significant increase" in deaths from COVID-19.

The letter concludes by noting that the rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection, morbidity, and mortality in the U.S. are among the highest in the world. It also notes that countries that have used science to guide their strategies to fight the novel coronavirus have reopened schools and businesses.

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