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Florida covid-19 testing declined while Atlas pushed to ‘slow the testing down’

Atlas, a neuroradiologist, not an infectious disease expert, strongly supported a decision in August to revise federal guidelines to de-emphasize the need to test people without symptoms, according to two sources familiar with the process. He shared his view with state officials, including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others in Florida, according to transcripts of public events and accounts from private meetings in that state.

“The purpose of testing is to stop people from dying,” Atlas said during one stop, captured on video. “When you start introducing closure of schools because people have positive, asymptomatic tests, that’s sort of not the purpose of testing.”   

“I think, Dr. Atlas, we’re in agreement on focusing strategies in school on people who are symptomatic,” DeSantis said in another joint news conference that day. 

Their push to de-emphasize tests coincided with a dramatic drop in testing across Florida, even as the country was careening toward a fall coronavirus surge. A CNN analysis of the Florida state official numbers, aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that testing dropped off at the end of July and early August, with a peak seven-day average over 90,000 tests per day on July 18. Six weeks later, in early September, the seven-day average dropped by nearly half, with fewer than 48,000 tests per day, and hovered between there and 60,000 during the fall.

If Atlas and DeSantis’ advocacy in Florida is, in fact, responsible for the state’s testing decrease, that would be in keeping with the wishes of Trump, who for months has falsely suggested that the US has so many coronavirus cases only because it conducts so many tests. In June, Trump even said publicly that he wanted to “slow the testing down, please.”   

Though both Atlas and DeSantis declined to discuss their views with CNN for this story, they have articulated them in public. Some state and local officials believe the pair was influential in taking Trump’s anti-testing pronouncements and helping to turn them into public policy. And the drop-off in testing is of deep concern to some. It took place as positivity rates remained high, in the range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers indicative of high community spread.

Asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers are still contagious, experts say. A lack of widespread testing makes it harder to map the disease as it spreads and to warn those at risk of illness.    

“There’s no question more people are going to die,” says Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a critic of DeSantis’ approach to testing and other matters of the governor’s pandemic management. “We are flying blind without tests.”    

At the moment, the nation is experiencing another surge of illness. Daily case numbers are reaching levels not seen since late July, and Florida is starting to see its numbers go up as well. Experts say that widespread testing, including of asymptomatic carriers, is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.    

A White House spokesman claimed Atlas had never advocated reducing testing, despite the doctor’s public statements to the contrary. 

Atlas and the President “are focused on using the massive testing program smartly, to save lives and protect individuals at risk in high-risk settings,” Judd Deere wrote in an email to CNN. “The administration’s testing strategy, and Dr. Atlas’s advisement, is fundamentally rooted in the bedrock objective of saving lives, while helping schools, businesses, churches, and other institutions, to open, re-open, and stay open.”  

A spokesperson for DeSantis said he is acting of his own accord. 

“We aren’t marching lockstep with anybody,” said Fred Piccolo, communications director for the governor. “We respect Dr. Atlas. But we have no marching orders from the White House.”  

Atlas: From Fox commentator to trusted Trump adviser

US President Donald Trump (L) listens to White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas speak during a press conference on September 23, 2020.
After advising the White House for several weeks, Atlas officially joined the Trump administration on August 10 at the request of the President. Trump had seen Atlas in interviews on Fox News, where he expressed skepticism about the scientific consensus on Covid-19.
Among other things, Atlas had asserted that it doesn’t matter “how many cases” there are in the US. His thoughts jibed with Trump’s, and, upon announcing his hire, the President promised Atlas would “take it to a new level,” suggesting Atlas would help the administration tackle the pandemic.
Atlas quickly assumed the role of Trump’s most favored public health adviser, supplanting more established members of the coronavirus task force such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. The President hardly ever asks doctors on the task force for their counsel anymore, White House officials have told CNN, relying instead on Atlas.

“I definitely don’t have his ear as much as Scott Atlas right now,” Fauci said of Trump on MSNBC on Friday. “That has been a changing situation.”   …

Source Website Florida covid-19 testing declined while Atlas pushed to ‘slow the testing down’

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