US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield is concerned that White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Scott Atlas is providing President Trump with misleading information about Covid-19, a federal official told CNN.
NBC News reported Monday that Redfield was overheard during a phone call in public on a commercial airline to say, “Everything he says is false.” NBC News, which heard the comment, said Redfield acknowledged after the flight from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., that he was speaking about Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who joined the White House Coronavirus Task Force in August.
NBC said that Redfield, in a conversation with a colleague that took place on Friday, suggested Atlas is providing Trump with misleading data about the efficacy of masks, young people’s susceptibility to the coronavirus and herd immunity.
In a statement to CNN, a CDC spokesman did not deny the conversation took place: “NBC News is reporting one side of a private phone conversation by CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield that was overheard on a plane from Atlanta Hartsfield airport. Dr. Redfield was having a private discussion regarding a number of points he has made publicly about Covid-19.”
In a statement sent Monday afternoon, the CDC acknowledged Redfield and Atlas have “different positions” on some issues: “The article quotes Dr. Redfield as saying “Everything he says is false” but it cannot supply the context for that statement since only one side of the private conversation being eavesdropped on was heard. Positions on three issues, the value of wearing a mask, youth COVID-19 infections, and where we are currently with herd immunity, are the positions that Dr. Redfield has different positions on than Dr. Atlas. The doctors agree on many other issues.”
A federal health official tells CNN, more broadly, “bottomline, the story is accurate.”
In response to CNN about Redfield’s reported comments on Atlas, White House spokesperson Sarah Matthews said in a statement, “The President consults with many experts both inside and outside of the federal government, who sometimes disagree with one another. He then makes policy decisions based on all of the information to save lives and safely reopen the country. Everyone, including the president, recommends wearing a mask when you cannot social distance.”
CNN has reported that Atlas – a critic of severe lockdowns who was supported herd immunity strategies against the coronavirus – has found himself at odds with other medical experts in his administration, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.
Atlas has been criticized for comments made earlier this year in defense of a herd immunity strategy for handling the pandemic. He has denied this and denied that he argued for letting the pandemic run its course.
“I have never, literally never, advised the President of the United States to pursue a strategy of herd immunity, of opening the doors and letting people get infected. I have never advised that, I have never advocated for that to the task force, I have never told anybody in the White House that that’s what we should be doing,” Atlas has said.
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On Friday, Fauci said during an interview that the Trump administration has pivoted away from receiving daily guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force to focus more heavily on the economy. “We’re meeting now on an average of one and at the most two times a week,” Fauci said.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas contributed to this report.