Updated at 11:03 a.m. ET on September 8, 2020.
A new philosophy of COVID-19 is circulating through the Republican Party and conservative media. If you look closely, you might notice that it resembles an early philosophy of COVID-19 that circulated through the Republican Party and conservative media: If young people get this disease, it won’t be so bad—and it might even be good.
Scott Atlas, the new White House science adviser and Trump-whisperer, seems to be the ringleader of this emergent corona-stoicism. A neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, Atlas is not an expert in epidemiology or infectious diseases. As a Fox News regular, his relevant credentials seem to be more televisual than scientific.
“It doesn’t matter if younger, healthier people get infected,” Atlas said in a July interview with San Diego’s KUSI news station. “I don’t know how often that has to be said. They have nearly zero risk of a problem from this … When younger, healthier people get infected, that’s a good thing.”
The reality is that, so far, COVID-19 has killed fewer children and teenagers than seasonal flu in a normal year, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (COVID-19’s fatality rate is much higher than influenza, but school closures and lockdowns have reduced teenage exposure to all sorts of infectious diseases.) A 25-year-old who contracts this disease is approximately 250 times less likely to die than an infected 85-year-old, according to the most sophisticated estimates of infection-fatality rates. For every 1,000 people infected with COVID-19 under the age of 35, the average expected death count is less than one.* These facts might give you the impression that, as Atlas said, “it doesn’t matter if younger, healthier people get infected.”