Jun 22, 2022 - Health

House report critiques Trump administration's COVID response

Former White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas speaks at a press conference in September 2020 as former President Trump looks on.
Former White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas speaks at a Sept. 2020 press conference as former President Trump looks on. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Top Trump administration officials ignored warnings and embraced a "herd immunity via mass infection" approach to containing COVID-19 to justify not taking meaningful action to curb the virus in the fall and winter of 2020-2021, a House oversight panel report concluded Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. missed the boat on the kind of swift, early response that would have been most effective, according to many health experts, leading more Americans to die from November 2020 through February 2021 than during any other corresponding period throughout the pandemic.

Driving the news: The staff report from the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis focused on Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, who was among the most vocal opponents of public health measures to slow the spread of the virus and who quickly gained influence within the White House.

  • Atlas pressed the administration to weaken CDC's testing guidance without any countervailing measures, and discouraged the widespread use of masks, the report stated.
  • Atlas also recruited herd immunity proponents to meet with senior officials, including then-President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. 
  • The report also detailed how White House senior adviser Jared Kushner convened "China Virus Huddles" three times a week with top officials to hone the Trump White House's messaging on the pandemic.

The background: The meetings were separate from those of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and were attended by White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, assistant to the president Hope Hicks and HHS deputy chief of staff for policy Paul Mango.

  • Birx told the select subcommittee that more than 130,000 American lives could have been saved after the first wave of the pandemic if Trump and his administration had implemented "optimal mitigation across this country."
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