Covid-19 Live Updates: Trump’s New Virus Adviser Has Questioned Mask Use


Trump’s new coronavirus adviser has questioned masks and alarmed government scientists.

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 Dr. Atlas, a 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 even as he upsets the balance of power within the White House coronavirus task force with ideas that top government doctors and scientists 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. He was referring to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease scientist, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

Dr. Atlas is neither an epidemiologist nor an infectious disease expert, but his frequent appearances on Fox News 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’s 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 akin to one 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.”

“When you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you’re prolonging the problem because you’re preventing population immunity,” Dr. Atlas said on Fox News in July.

Dr. Atlas also 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.

But his embrace of “herd immunity” has alienated his colleagues the most.

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

Joseph R. Biden Jr., pressing his argument that President Trump is failing the country with his handling of the coronavirus, plans on Wednesday to make the case that Mr. Trump is hurting the nation’s parents, teachers and schoolchildren with his push for schools to reopen.

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, a community college professor, are scheduled to receive a briefing in Wilmington, Del., from a group of experts, including Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who served as secretary of health and human services for President Obama and is now the president of American University, and Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the California State Board of Education.

Mr. Biden will then give a speech on what his campaign described as Mr. Trump’s failures on the pandemic as well as Mr. Biden’s plan to reopen schools safely.

Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign, said Mr. Trump was “barreling forward trying to reopen schools because he thinks it will help his own re-election.”

“We believe this is a key contrast for voters,” Ms. Sanders said. “President Trump, who continues to ignore the science and has no plan to get the virus under control, and Joe Biden, who is working with the experts and putting together an effective plan to beat the virus and reopen schools safely.”

Mr. Trump has demanded that schools reopen this fall and threatened to cut federal funding for school districts that defied his wishes. But his effort to pressure schools did not have the effect he desired, and many districts decided to begin the school year with remote instruction.

After nearly three decades of economic growth, Australia officially fell into recession after its economy shrank 7 percent in the second quarter, the government said on Wednesday.

The drop in quarterly G.D.P. is the largest since record-keeping began in 1959, Michael Smedes, head of national accounts at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said in a statement.

Restrictions that were imposed in March during the virus’s first surge greatly reduced domestic spending on transportation, hotels and restaurants, while border bans hit the tourism and education industries.

Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, remains under lockdown as it fights a surge that was driven by returning travelers. Officials on Wednesday extended Victoria’s state of emergency for six months, a designation that gives them broad powers to enact virus-related restrictions as needed.

In the end, more than $150 billion in stimulus packages could not ward off a recession.

“Today’s devastating numbers confirm what every Australian knows: that Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on our economy and our lives like nothing we have ever experienced before,” Josh Frydenberg, the country’s treasurer, said on Wednesday.

The new data marked a sobering end to what had once seemed an endless boom driven by immigration, rising trade with Asia and careful monetary policy. More than a million Australians were unemployed in July, and the unemployment rate of 7.5 percent was the worst in 22 years.

“The road ahead will be long,” Mr. Frydenberg said. “The road ahead will be hard. The road ahead will be bumpy.”

Australia has recorded 663 coronavirus deaths and more than 25,000 cases, according to a New York Times database.

As the number of new cases in Indonesia surges to record highs, professional associations say that more than 100 doctors and 70 nurses have died from Covid-19, one of the highest rates in the world.

As of Wednesday, Indonesia has reported 7,505 deaths and 177,571 cases since the pandemic began, including about 20,000 cases in the past week, according to a New York Times database. Independent experts say the actual number of cases could be many times higher because Indonesia lags far behind other nations in testing and its positivity rate is nearly 15 percent.

The daily caseload in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, peaked on Saturday, with 3,308 cases. On Sunday, Jakarta, the capital, reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time. Some hospitals in the country’s three biggest cities, Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan, are nearing capacity.

The virus has already taken a heavy toll on the country’s medical professionals. The Indonesian Medical Association said on Tuesday that 102 doctors and nine dentists had died from Covid-19, and the Indonesian National Nurses Association said 70 nurses had died.

Only Russia and Egypt have had a higher Covid-19 death rate among doctors, said Dr. Adib Khumaidi, the medical association’s risk mitigation team leader. His calculation could not be independently verified; an Italian association of surgeons and dentists has compiled a list of 176 in that country who have died.

“We are now facing the problem of our mental endurance too,” said Dr. Adib, an orthopedist and trauma surgeon. “We have been through six months of a situation that is getting worse, not better, and the news of our peers who died really affects the mentality of our colleagues.”

In other news around the world:

  • Greece reported the first case of the coronavirus in the Moria camp for migrants on the Aegean island of Lesbos. The migration ministry said the facility would be locked down for two weeks as health inspectors tested other residents. Living conditions at the camp have been decried by human rights groups as it hosts nearly 12,000 people, four times its maximum capacity of 3,000. The patient is a 40-year-old man from Somalia who left after securing refugee status but “returned illegally to Moria and had been living in a tent outside the camp’s perimeter,” the ministry said.

  • Direct international flights to Beijing, the capital of China, will gradually resume, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said Wednesday, as the coronavirus outbreak comes under control in the region. Flights from eight countries — Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Greece, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Canada — may fly to Beijing again, starting Thursday, the authorities said.

  • Hungary reported a daily record on Wednesday, with 365 new cases. The number is higher than even what it reported in April, when the pandemic was worsening in many countries. Last week, several members of the government entered quarantine after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the coronavirus. Hungary has barred most foreign travelers and is making returning citizens isolate themselves. It has had relatively few cases, 6,257, and just over 600 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

  • After mass demonstrations in Berlin last weekend against the government’s coronavirus regulations, the city decided to require masks at large protests. Now, organizers say they’re planning a large event elsewhere in Germany, but they deny that has anything to do with Berlin’s mask rule. The head of the group, Michael Ballweg, said in a radio interview Tuesday that the protests, timed for the 30th anniversary of German reunification on Oct. 3, would be at Lake Constance, in the south.

Reporting was contributed by Thomas Kaplan, Niki Kitsantonis, Isabella Kwai, Benjamin Novak, Richard C. Paddock, Christopher F. Schuetze, Michael D. Shear, Dera Menra Sijabat, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jim Tankersley, Noah Weiland and Elaine Yu.



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