Trump is 'sitting' on $9 billion earmarked for COVID-19 testing because of a controversial advisor, report says

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  • The Trump administration has not spent $9 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing because of opposition from Scott Atlas, an advisor on the White House coronavirus task force, The Washington Post reported.

  • Atlas is not an infectious-disease expert and has emerged as an influential and controversial advisor on the task force by promoting ideas in line with Trump's approach to the pandemic.

  • "We're demanding that the feds release ... those dollars," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday, urging the Trump administration to commit to a "robust testing and tracing program."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Related: Risk ranking of everyday activities for COVID-19

The Trump administration has yet to spend $9 billion allocated by Congress for COVID-19 testing because of a controversial advisor who has garnered significant influence over the White House's pandemic response, according to a Washington Post report based on interviews with 41 administration officials, advisors to the president, public-health leaders, and others.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who is not an expert on infectious diseases, has taken a fervent stance against expanded testing, The Post reported, in contrast to the advice of top experts on the White House coronavirus task force such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday decried the Trump administration, and more specifically the Department of Health and Human Services, saying it was "sitting" on the $9 billion in funding for testing and tracing.

"We're demanding that the feds release ... those dollars," Schumer said, calling on the Trump administration to commit to a "robust testing and tracing program."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Atlas, a healthcare-policy expert who works at the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank at Stanford University, has quickly consolidated influence on the task force in recent months by advocating for strategies that are more in line with the president's rejection of strict restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The Post reported he's pushed hard for a herd-immunity approach to the pandemic, which occurs when enough of a population develops resistance to a disease, whether through exposure or a vaccine, to interrupt the virus' spread. Top experts have said that allowing COVID-19 to spread through the country unchecked could lead to half a million US deaths from the virus, which has killed nearly 220,000 Americans as of Monday afternoon.

Atlas, who was tapped by Trump to join the task force in August after repeated appearances on Fox News, in a statement to The Post rejected the notion he's advocated a herd-immunity strategy, but multiple reports suggest otherwise.

Over the weekend, Twitter removed a tweet from Atlas that misleadingly told the public that face masks don't help to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Trump has also pushed against wearing masks or face coverings, contradicting his advisors and a mountain of evidence that masks are a vital tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Atlas' presence on the coronavirus task force has created tension within the unit and seen top advisors like Fauci and Birx increasingly sidelined, according to The Post. Atlas has also challenged the analysis of Birx and other top officials with "junk science," three senior administration officials told The Post.

The president on Monday attacked Fauci during a campaign call and referred to him as a "disaster," CNN reported.

"People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," Trump said, according to CNN, adding, "If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths."

A few hours later, Trump also mocked the infectious-disease expert's baseball skills on Twitter.

"Tony should stop wearing the Washington Nationals' Mask for two reasons. Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing," the president tweeted. "Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!"

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month and subsequently hospitalized. Top public-health experts have pointed to his response as a key factor in the US outbreak spiraling out of control. There have been over 8.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, more than any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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