Twitter decided to outright delete a tweet from one of President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus advisers, Scott Atlas, that alleged widespread use of masks was not effective to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of Sunday, Twitter had removed the tweet and replaced it with a note that reads “This Tweet is no longer available.” A spokesman for Twitter confirmed that the tweet “was in violation of our COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy” that “prohibits sharing false or misleading content related to COVID-19 which could lead to harm.”
After he wrote the initial tweet that questioned the widespread use of masks, Atlas, who is a neuroradiologist with no experience in infectious diseases, wrote a follow-up that tried to tone down the first message. In the second tweet, Atlas said that his first message illustrated why Trump’s policy is the right one and there shouldn’t be “widespread mandates” when it comes to wearing masks.
The deletion of Atlas’ tweet comes at a time when he has come under scrutiny for statements that have led him to clash with other members of the White House coronavirus task force. Last month, NBC overheard Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, complain about Atlas, who joined the task force in August, during a phone call. “Everything he says is false,” Redfield was overheard saying. Redfield has publicly called face masks “the most powerful public health tool” to combat the coronavirus and has said they may provide even better protection than a vaccine. “We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” Redfield told a Senate subcommittee. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
Atlas was also publicly criticized Sunday for his claim that the virus can be stopped when around a quarter of the population contracts it. He said in a message to an economist that it was likely “only 25 or 20 percent of people need the infection” in what seemed to be a threshold for what is commonly known as “herd immunity.” That is why, Atlas allegedly claimed, calls for widespread testing and isolation are “grossly misguided.” On Sunday, infectious diseases specialist Michael Osterholm harshly criticized the claim during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. “First of all, that 20 percent number is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen,” Osterholm said. “It’s 50 percent to 70 percent at minimum.” And getting to that point means “there will be lots of deaths, a lot of serious illnesses,” Osterholm added.