The neuroradiologist, who lacked expertise in infectious disease, began his 130-day position as a special government employee in August, and his gig was set to expire this week.
Atlas has fielded fierce criticism for his efforts to downplay the pandemic and block states from enacting their own measures to combat the worsening outbreak, including enacting mask mandates and social distancing guidelines. Instead, he’s advocated for reopening the country for business, a strategy that quickly made him Trump’s favorite coronavirus adviser.
Atlas was one of the leading voices in the White House during the president’s push to reopen schools for the fall semester, advising Trump that the U.S. was rounding a corner and that the worst of the virus had passed.
He repeatedly deemphasized the threats of community spread both behind closed doors and on national television, telling Americans that state mandates on masks and social distancing were not necessary.
In recent weeks, top coronavirus task force officials said Atlas began pushing for the administration to adopt a policy of “herd immunity,” which holds that if enough people contract the highly contagious disease and become immune to it, then future spread among the broader population will be reduced. Sweden, which adopted that strategy, has failed to contain the coronavirus and is now in the throes of yet another surge in cases.
Atlas denied ever advocating for such a strategy. But he consistently appeared on television pushing ideas that closely aligned with the dangerous “herd immunity” belief. In one August Fox News interview, Atlas said “people getting the infection is not really a problem, and in fact, as we said months ago, when you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you’re prolonging the problem because you’re preventing population immunity.”
Shortly after news broke about his resignation, Atlas appeared on Fox News, where he pushed for reopening schools as host Tucker Carlson decried Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “power-mad incompetent.”
Atlas went on to complain “that America and its universities really need to allow, without attack, without rebuke, without intimidation the free exchange of ideas.”
Some federal health officials earlier told The Daily Beast they were desperate for Atlas to leave, as they worried he still held too much influence over the Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic, which has now killed more than 267,000 Americans.
“He’s a destructive force,” one senior official told The Daily Beast. “I mean, at this point, I don’t know how else to explain what he’s doing. It’s really disruptive.”
Atlas has even taken aim directly at Dr. Fauci, accusing him of being a “political animal” after the nation’s top infectious disease expert delivered promising news of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“There’s all kinds of prognostications that were made—all negative, all to undermine what the reality of the timelines were, all to undermine the president,” Atlas said in mid-November. “And I think, you know, once you do that sort of thing and make yourself a political animal, basically, you lose your credibility.”
Days later, Fauci declined in a Today show interview to “say anything against Dr. Atlas as a person” but said he totally disagrees “with the stand he takes. I just do, period.”
Earlier this month, Atlas committed yet another blunder by suggesting people “rise up” against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest coronavirus mandate.
“You get what you accept,” he said.
Atlas was also forced to apologize for an appearance on RT, the Kremlin-backed TV network, during which the Trump adviser insisted that public health officials are “killing people with their fear-inducing shutdown policies.” The next day, he claimed he didn’t know RT was a registered foreign agent. “I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of,” he said.
In his resignation letter, dated Dec. 1, Atlas insisted he “always relied on the latest science and evidence, without any political consideration or influence.”
“As time went on, like all scientists and health policy scholars, I learned new information and synthesized the latest data from around the world, all in an effort to provide you with the best information to serve the greater public good,” he wrote as the pandemic reached new heights, with over 13,522,247 cases in the United States alone.