President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid advisory board member Dr. Celine Gounder told CNBC that she is “relieved” upon hearing news that President Donald Trump’s special advisor on the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Scott Atlas, formally resigned from his post.
“I am relieved that in the future that people who are qualified, people who are infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists like me will be helping to lead this effort, people who are experts in this,” Gounder said in a Monday evening interview on “The News with Shepard Smith.” “You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart attack, and that was essentially what was happening.”
Atlas specializes in neuroradiology and has no background in infectious diseases. After he repeatedly pushed to reopen schools and questioned the efficacy of masks, dozens of Stanford Medical researchers and doctors called out their former colleague. They alleged that Atlas was spreading “falsehoods and misrepresentation of science.”
In his resignation letter, Atlas said he “always relied on latest science and evidence” and “synthesized the latest data” as he learned new information.
“Although some may disagree with those recommendations, it is the free exchange of ideas that lead to scientific truths, which are the very foundation of any civilized society,” he wrote.
Atlas’s resignation comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country. The United States has averaged more than 162,000 cases a day over the past week, and this month alone, reported more than 4.2 million new cases. That means nearly one-third of all of the country’s cases have been added in November, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data.
The Trump administration’s policies differ substantially from what those of the incoming Biden administration’s will be especially around masks and testing, according to Gounder, who is an epidemiologist at NYU.
“Unfortunately mask wearing has been politicized where this is really just a basic hygienic measure, like using toilet paper, that should never have turned into a political symbol,” Gounder said. “As for testing, the current administration has actively discouraged people from getting tested, and has said we’re getting tested too much.”
In June, Trump told supporters at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma that increased testing leads to counting more cases of the virus.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ They test and they test.”
Hospitals across the country are grappling with the surge in cases. More than 93,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid-19 — an all-time high according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Gounder said that the Biden administration will start by focusing on the location of vaccine sites in order to ensure that Black and minority communities will have an equal opportunity to get an approved Covid vaccine.
“For example with testing, we’ve seen fewer testing sites in communities of color, the lines have been longer, the turnaround times have been longer,” explained Gounder. “So really making sure that we work with providers who care for those communities to make sure that they are able to provide access to the vaccine too.”