White House denies Trump has embraced 'herd immunity' strategy to COVID-19

White House denies Trump has embraced 'herd immunity' strategy to COVID-19
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The White House on Thursday again denied the administration has ever considered a policy of "herd immunity" for COVID-19 infections.

"The herd immunity so-called theory was something made up in the fanciful minds of the media. That was never something that was ever considered here at the White House," press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters during a briefing. 

McEnany was responding to reports that new White House pandemic adviser Scott Atlas, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who is not an epidemiologist or infectious diseases expert, had advocated for the Trump administration to lift all restrictions aimed at stopping infections from spreading.

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Atlas has publicly downplayed the importance of mask wearing, and has suggested the U.S. shouldn't be testing so many people.  

The goal of herd immunity is to get as many "healthy" people infected as possible in order to build widespread resistance, while protecting the most vulnerable populations.

The U.S. has let states take the lead on their own coronavirus strategies, and there has been no centralized response from the White House. The U.S. has recorded more than 6 million COVID-19 infections and more than 186,000 deaths.

White House officials have spent the week denying The Washington Post's report that Atlas has been pushing herd immunity — and that President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE has been listening. 

Trump seemingly referred to herd immunity during an interview with Fox News on Monday.

“Once you get to a certain number, you know — we use the word herd, right?” Trump told Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamEx-Pence aide: Trump spent 45 minutes of task force meeting 'going off on Tucker Carlson' instead of talking coronavirus Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs to be deposed in Seth Rich lawsuit: report NYC living statue shows Trump desecrating graves of war dead, COVID-19 victims MORE. “Once you get to a certain number, it’s going to go away.”

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On Wednesday, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah BirxDeborah BirxControversial CDC guidelines were written by HHS officials, not scientists: report Trump coronavirus adviser threatens to sue Stanford researchers Trump disputes CDC director on vaccine timing, says 'he made a mistake' MORE said she would not be a part of the administration if Trump believed herd immunity was a viable strategy.

“Neither I, nor anybody in the administration, is willing to sacrifice American lives for herd immunity. We’ll get to herd immunity through a vaccine and that’s the right way to do it,” Birx said. 

Despite the denials, the administration's approach to the pandemic has changed. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its guidelines last week, and no longer recommends asymptomatic people get tested even if they have been exposed to someone with the disease. 

The strategy serves to underrepresent the true number of people infected with the virus, but lower case numbers could bolster Trump's reelection chances. 

Trump and his top aides have also taken to holding public events without wearing a mask and without requiring attendees to wear them, most notably last week's Republican National Convention speech on the White House lawn.